EAA Community Continues Push for Senate FAA Reauthorization Bill
FAA funding deadline looms
May 22, 2008 — EAA representatives in Washington, D.C. continue efforts to break through a logjam in the Senate on the FAA Reauthorization Bill. However, political struggles beyond the scope of aviation are frustrating the process.
Under continuing protests against aviation user fees - protests from EAA members and the general aviation community - two sparring U.S. Senate committees reached a compromise that dropped user fees from the Senate's FAA funding bill. That compromise, reached on April 26, 2008, removed a proposed $25-per-trip IFR user fee from S.B. 1300, the Senate's version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill. But the bill stalled again over disagreements on other amendments unrelated to user fees or even aviation.
There was an attempt in the Senate on May 6 to close off debate and put S.B.1300 up for a vote in its current form - without user fees. That attempt failed to gather the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward.
It's a "good news/bad news" situation, according to Doug Macnair, vice president of EAA's Washington, D.C. office. "We finally have the Senate bill the way we can live with it - no user fees - and the whole thing grinds to halt over unrelated amendments," said Macnair. With new funding stalled in Congress, upgrades to the air traffic control system and other aviation infrastructure are also stalled.
The compromise Senate bill still includes a 65-percent increase in aviation jet fuel taxes on business-jet operators - from 21.8 cents to 36 cents per gallon. This increase is intended to fund modernization of the nation's air traffic control system.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill (H.R. 2881) last September. "The House got its work done," said Macnair. Like the current, and stalled, version of the Senate bill, H.R. 2881 would increase the FAA's funding for air traffic modernization by hiking aviation fuel taxes. It does not include new general aviation air traffic user fees, though it does propose to increase transactional charges for FAA services such as aircraft registration, airman certificate issuance, and others. EAA has largely supported H.R. 2881 despite these increases because the hikes represent price adjustments to existing charges and not the introduction of a whole new system of ATC-related user fees.
Legislative aides say there is little hope of passing a new FAA Reauthorization Bill this session. To pass a new FAA funding bill, the Senate would have to pass its version of the bill, and then the differences between the House and Senate bills would have to be resolved in a Conference Committee. After that, a compromise bill would have to be sent back to both houses for passage. Finally, the bill would be sent up to the White House for the President's signature or veto. House and Senate aides say that is not likely to happen before current FAA funding, already operating on an extension, runs out on June 30 of this year. And even if it did, the Bush Administration has threatened to veto any Reauthorization bill that does not contained their proposed funding overhaul that includes user fees on general aviation.
If Congress fails to pass a new FAA budget authorization before June 30, it will need to extend the FAA's current budget to keep the agency from shutting down. Some sources say the Senate might vote to extend the agency's current funding into mid-2009, if the legislative stalemate continues. "It's very hard for anyone at the FAA to plan anything until they have a new funding bill," said Macnair, because they don't know what programs or activities will be funded or cut under a new budget authorization.
"Pilots, mechanics and FBOs, aviation manufacturers, non-scheduled passenger and freight services, emergency response flights, business aviation, and young people trying to save for flight lessons - all of them and more would be badly hurt if the FAA established a user fee system," Macnair said. "EAA will continue to fight strongly against general aviation user fees, and will continue to pressure Congress to pass a sensible FAA funding bill."