Last updated: 09:33 AM ET, Tue March 22 2016

Senate Passes Extension That Puts FAA Debate Off until July

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 22, 2016

Senate Passes Extension That Puts FAA Debate Off until July

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All the debates and deal-making concerning the FAA reauthorization bill have come to nothing...yet. The Senate followed the House’s lead and passed an extension, with some minor amendments, that will extend the FAA’s authority until July 15. The bill needs to be approved by the President, but that is seen as a mere formality.

No changes until July (at least)

The FAA will continue to operate under the current set of rules and regulations for the next three and a half months while lawmakers attempt to get support for long-term changes. The extension essentially allows Congress to put off what is sure to be a heated debate for a little while longer.

Issues like capping airline fees and privatizing America’s air traffic control system have proved polarizing, with legitimate arguments being formed on both sides of the debate. The Senate’s full FAA reauthorization bill was passed by the Commerce Committee last week. It will still be debated and perhaps voted on by the full Senate. However, lawmakers decided that there wasn’t enough time to get the bill passed by the March 31 deadline even with support on both sides of the aisle. Thus, the extension was an obvious choice.

Senate bill still going forward

Now, the plan is to present the Commerce Committee’s bill to the Senate on April 4 after it returns from a short recess. The House version of the reauthorization bill, which included a clause that would privatize the air traffic control system, was put on the shelf after it failed to get enough support. 

READ MORE: Air Traffic Control Privatization Bill Has Been Sidelined

The Senate’s version of reauthorization does not include anything about ATC privatization. Many members of the legislature felt that it would be hard to get any bill containing privatization passed. Nonetheless, the powerful airline lobby (which is mostly for privatization) and its allies in the government will surely try to bring the idea back up and gain support for it by July. 

Something needs to get done in July

The danger is that including too many controversial clauses will delay reauthorization even further. Congress will work through mid July and then go into recess until September. Without a bill that has wide support, there is a good chance that the legislature would simply have to pass yet another extension so that the issue could be taken up again in the fall.

READ MORE: US Senate Pushes FAA Bill That Won't Regulate Fees

The Senate bill, authored mainly by Commerce Committee chair John Thune of South Dakota, does have bipartisan support. Even though ATC privatization is not part of the bill, there will certainly be discussion about the inclusion of various rules and regulations concerning airline fees and other hot button issues.

For the next few months, however, the FAA will continue to operate without any significant changes.

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