As Deadline Approaches, Senate Votes to Begin Work on FAA Reauthorization Bill

As Deadline Approaches, Senate Votes to Begin Work on FAA Reauthorization Bill
An Alaska Airlines flight that experienced a mid-air blow is seen parked on the tarmac in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 23, 2024. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate held a second procedural vote on May 2 regarding the five-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill as the May 10 deadline quickly approaches.

After more than two hours of voting, the motion to proceed with consideration of the bill and to begin work on advancing the bipartisan legislation passed 81–10.

Previously, on May 1, the Senate voted 89–10 to invoke cloture, which limits debate and calls for immediate voting, on the bipartisan $105 billion bill.

The question of adding five daily roundtrip, long-distance flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) remains one of the bill’s most controversial portions.

After a runway collision almost occurred on April 18, several lawmakers, including Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), are concerned with additional traffic.

“DCA is already one of the busiest airports in the United States, and the consistent congestion on its runways has resulted in delays, cancellations, and safety risks that have only worsened in recent years,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in a statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) believes lawmakers opposed to the flight increase are being pressured by lobbyists for United Airlines, who want to retain a “monopoly” at the competing Dulles International Airport, which also services the Washinton area.

“United is lobbying furiously to stop any new flights into and out of Washington Reagan Airport because they don’t want competition,” he told The Epoch Times.

The Epoch Times contacted United Airlines for comment, but a representative referred questions to the Coalition to Protect America’s Regional Airports.

Mr. Cruz said these additional flights will greatly improve travel options for many living in rural areas around the country.

“Anytime we have a busy airport, and we have lots of them, you’ve got to have trained professionals that are there and they’ve got to have the means and the resources to do their job correctly,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told The Epoch Times.

The bill includes $738 million to fund the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) until the 2028 fiscal year.

Many of its reforms address safety issues plaguing the FAA, including a near-collision of planes at JFK International Airport a day after the incident at DCA.

Boeing is also under added scrutiny following the midair door blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight on Jan. 5, just two days before Boeing’s deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department was set to expire.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mr. Cruz, and Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) successfully negotiated the 1,000-plus-page bill just after midnight on April 29.

The bill will require aircraft to use 25-hour cockpit recording devices to monitor pilots and employ “situational awareness technology” to prevent runway collisions or further miscommunications among pilots and air traffic controllers.

Airport infrastructure will see improvements with an increase in funding from $3.35 billion a year to $4 billion in the Airport Improvement Plan.

Transportation Budget Hearing

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg answered questions regarding the FAA reauthorization bill at a Senate hearing before the vote.

Senators discussed the Transportation Department’s request for $108.9 billion in funding, in part to address issues with the FAA. 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) emphasized the need for hiring more air traffic controllers at the FAA to deal with the growing 3,000-person shortage, an effort that Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) applauded in her opening remarks.

Mr. Buttigieg said the Transporation Department is requesting $26.8 billion for the FAA to “support oversight of aircraft production … and continue improving airports.”

“The bottom line is we need more controllers and we’re acting to make that a reality and the budget reflects that would enable us to further increase the hiring targets,” he added.

That would mean an additional 2,000 controllers hired in fiscal year 2025, 200 more than in 2024, and 500 more than in 2023.

“Right now, we need to get more air traffic controllers across America to make sure we’re keeping our sky safer and our passengers safe as well,” Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) told The Epoch Times.

There are also plans, Mr. Buttigieg added, to increase the training pipeline for air traffic controllers through outreach programs with schools and universities.

“The bottom line is, of course, we have to and will maintain a very high standard for what it takes to become a controller,” he said.

Senators also asked Mr. Buttigieg about plans to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The federal government’s plan to foot the cost initially worried some lawmakers, as it could drain the Federal Highway Emergency Fund.

However, during the hearing, Sen. Chris van Hollen (D-Md.) said any lawsuits against the parties involved would go towards recouping the expense put on American taxpayers.

From The Epoch Times

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