It looks like the long-suffering Federal Aviation Administration's wait for a reauthorization bill is coming to an end. This week, the House will vote on the 18th stopgap funding measure for the FAA since the last reauthorization expired in 2007. But this extension, to May 31, is almost definitely the last if key negotiators like House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., get their way. The Senate has already passed its version of the FAA bill, and the House will follow suit this week with its bill.
That gives the House and Senate about two months to work out the differences between their two measures. It shouldn't be that hard. The biggest stumbling blocks that have held up the bill in the past--such as language on how collective-bargaining laws would apply to FedEx employees or increases in airport-passenger facility charges--are gone. Still, there are some outstanding issues: the number of long-distance slots at Reagan National Airport, for example, or what happens with "essential air services" that guarantee airport service in rural areas. There is also the question of money. The House bill, at $59.7 billion, funds the FAA at fiscal 2008 levels for four years. The Senate bill punts, offering $34.5 billion for just two years.
What are the most important issues on which the aviation community should focus as the final touches are being put on the FAA bill? Is funding at fiscal 2008 levels acceptable? How important are essential air services? Is the debate over Reagan National Airport a side-show to the underlying bill? What aspects of the NextGen navigation and surveillance technology should Congress be aware of? Are there overlooked provisions that should be highlighted before the spotlight disappears?