Last updated: 09:55 AM ET, Fri March 18 2016

US Senate Pushes FAA Bill That Won't Regulate Fees

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 18, 2016

US Senate Pushes FAA Bill That Won't Regulate Fees

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A new version of the FAA reuthorization bill, championed largely by the senate is currently gaining support in Washington, D.C. after approval by the Commerce Committee. This is a stark contrast to a competing bill that stalled in the House of Representatives due in large part for its advocacy for the privatization of air traffic control.

The Senate bill calls for some protections for consumers, but its approval was not without controversy. A group of Democrats in the Commerce Committee tried to add an amendment to the bill that would have barred airlines from setting unreasonable fees for things like checked baggage, seat choice and other basic perks.

The amendment basically called for the U.S. Department of Transportation to come up with guidelines for “reasonable” fees. Airlines would be required to abide by whatever the DOT decided. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey led the effort to include this amendment in the final bill. He said that passengers were being “gouged” by excessive fees, but that they had no choice but to pay them if they wanted to fly.

READ MORE: Will Airports Soon Be Fighting Back Against Drones?

Unfortunately for those waiting for a return to the fee-free era of air travel, the amendment was defeated. Committee members voted along party lines, which resulted in a tie, as a majority is needed for such amendments.

The bill’s main author, Commerce Committee chair John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, explained that he and his Republican peers voted down the measure because they thought it was up to the free market, not the government, to decide when fees were unreasonable. “No one here can argue fees aren’t unpopular. However, it’s not up to the federal government to determine when fees are unreasonable.”

Some provisions concerning fees did make it into the final bill. The most impactful one is a rule that could standardize the way that fees are added into the advertised price of a ticket. This would allow consumers to see the full cost of the flight upfront instead of adding in extra fees after they start the booking process.

READ MORE: Air Traffic Control Privatization Bill Has Been Sidelined

Though they dodged a bullet when the committee decided not to pursue the regulation of fees, airline lobbyists complained that the new rules that did make it into the bill are a step towards re-regulating the air travel industry.

Despite the party-line vote on the fee issue, the Commerce Committee’s bill, which would reauthorize the FAA until October 2017, has bipartisan support. Because it does not include controversial issues like ATC privatization, it has a higher chance of passing both the Senate and the House.

Thune has said that he is not opposed to making changes if the bill passes the Senate and is ready to be sent to the House. The deadline for reauthorization is March 31, though the deadline could be extended by several months if no bill is approved by then.

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