……….continue in Congress. This time they are considering legislation that will impact all of us from both a personal and a business perspective. The funding for the Federal Aviation Administration runs out at the end of this month. As was the case with the highway reauthorization bill, the new FAA reauthorization being considered, the Aviation, Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016, has no chance of passage before its expiration date. Consequently, within the next week or so, we no doubt will see an extension of the current legislation. Probably nothing else will happen before the election, which in this case, I believe is just as well.
In addition to the usual new funding for various necessary programs, the 2016 bill would privatize the air traffic control system. The last time there was any major discussion about air traffic controllers was thirty five years ago when President Reagan fired them all because of an illegal work stoppage. Now Congress is suggesting that 38,000 FAA employees, including 14,000 controllers be transferred to a non-profit corporation managed by an eleven member board consisting of representatives from airlines, general aviation, controllers and others. The new corporation would get its revenue from the users of the system rather the government. The bill is supported by the controllers union, airlines with the exception of Delta, and other industry groups.
The primary reason for support of such a broad range of the industry lies with the fact that the current air traffic control system is, for a pilot’s perspective like something from the Dark Ages. It has not been given the upgrades and enhancements necessary to keep pace with the volume of traffic or modern aviation. Work on a new system called the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) was begun in 2003. It is a high tech, digital based system that will manage three times more traffic with increased efficiency. Scheduled for completion in 2025, that date has been pushed back to 2030, and overruns in cost have been significant. By the time it is completed, it no doubt will be obsolete. The advocates of privatization believe that the system has a much better chance of completion under new management. Most of the opposition to the new bill, including that of Delta Airlines, centers around the belief that maintaining an efficient air traffic control system is the responsibility of the government. General aviation objectors believe the legislation will increase their costs and worsen service at smaller airports. The legislation clearly requires more input and study before it is passed.
While the air traffic provision is by far the most important one in the new legislation, passengers will be happy to learn that if the new bill is passed, airlines will be required to refund baggage fees if baggage arrives more than 24 hours late. Also cell phone usage will be prohibited so we won’t have to listen to our seat mates’ conversations with offices, girlfriends, and whoever. Unfortunately, there are no provisions dealing with the myriad of confusing and sometimes exorbitant fees now levied by the airlines.