Aviation Stakeholders Caution Against Series of Short-Term FAA Extensions & Urge Swift Passage of Comprehensive Long-Term Bill
Aviation stakeholders at a congressional hearing today testified about how detrimental a failure to pass a long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill would be to the aviation community and the nation’s aviation system. Witnesses also highlighted the harmful nature of simply passing a lengthy series of short-term extensions, urging the House and Senate to expedite the completion of a long-term FAA bill.
The House passed its bipartisan FAA bill – the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935) – on July 20, 2023, by a vote of 351 to 69. The Senate has not yet approved that legislation or a companion bill.
Witnesses at today’s hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation all expressed support for various provisions of H.R. 3935 and urged the Senate to act swiftly.
Paul Bradbury, Director of the Portland International Jetport (PWM), testified on behalf of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) about the impacts that long-term funding uncertainty and too many short-term FAA extensions can have on our aviation system. “The National Airspace System Review Team recently issued a report that documents how unpredictable funding adversely impacts system safety and efficiency. It also highlights issues with air traffic controller staffing and the disruption to necessary equipment upgrades,” Bradbury said.
“Those numerous stop-gap measures, coupled with partial FAA shutdowns, were disruptive to airport operators who routinely saw their AIP grants delayed because of prolonged uncertainty in Washington,” Bradbury continued. “With so many challenges facing airports and the entire aviation industry, we simply cannot afford to go through years of multiple short-term extensions. Repeated short-term extensions and FAA shutdowns make it exceptionally challenging for airport operators to plan and complete their capital projects. Funding uncertainty is particularly difficult on smaller airports and those with short construction seasons.”
Bradbury spoke specifically about how funding uncertainty and delays can increase projects costs for airports such as his. “Funding uncertainty is a particular challenge for PWM and other northern tier airports with limited construction seasons and tight operational windows to complete their projects. But other airports around the country are also impacted by annual weather constraints including those in the west located at high elevations and those in the southeast and other areas of the country impacted by hurricanes,” he said. “Some of the largest expenses tied to a major airfield project are startup costs related to mobilization, safety, and security measures, which can amount to 15 to 20 percent of the overall cost…. But if a construction project is delayed and contractors are forced to remobilize in the next construction season these startup costs are doubled.”
In his testimony, Pete Bunce, President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), posed the question, “Do we want Administrator [Michael] Whitaker to spend his time managing lapses in authority and appropriations or focus his time on addressing the agency’s significant challenges and taking advantage of opportunities? As we have seen in the past, if action is not taken now, it will have both near-term and long-term impacts and set the agency back substantially.”
Bunce continued, “As this Committee documented during its hearings and oversight, the agency faces deep challenges. These include the considerable turnover and loss of expertise at the agency, compounded by the slow pace of FAA employees returning from remote work and insufficient employee training and mentoring. Additionally, confirming a new Administrator took 19 months and during that time, many positions throughout the agency were without permanent leadership. While some progress has been made, the regulatory process faces continuing backlogs and still needs reform and a better clarification of roles and responsibilities. All of this has hindered FAA efforts to further its global engagement during a transformative time for aviation. It is imperative that the FAA and the U.S. Congress address these challenges.”
Bunce went on to highlight how H.R. 3935 will strengthen the United States’ standing in global aviation safety and technological leadership, provide needed direction in the burgeoning Advanced Air Mobility space, address workforce development needs, and encourage continued progress in the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) 5 initiative.
Gary Peterson, Executive Director of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), also outlined a number of provisions in H.R. 3935 that will help strengthen the aviation system, from safety improvements for aviation workers and the travelling public, to efforts to address workforce issues, and more. Peterson said, “Short-term extensions are anathema to all of these goals. While it may be politically expedient to continue to extend the FAA’s existing authority, neither airline employees nor the traveling public stand to gain from the status quo. Once again, the TWU greatly appreciates the House of Representatives for its diligent work in passing an FAA bill earlier this year. We join you in calling on the Senate to finish its work and get a bill – ideally H.R. 3935 – to the President’s desk.”
Rich Santa, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), discussed the importance of FAA reauthorization in addressing challenges with air traffic controller staffing and training, air traffic control system modernization, developing new aviation safety technologies, and more. “For the better part of two decades, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), like much of the federal government, has faced an unstable and unpredictable funding stream,” said Santa. “Whether due to the risks of lapsed appropriations or authorizations, such interruptions have negatively affected all aspects of the Agency, making it increasingly difficult to maintain the safety and efficiency of the NAS.”
More information from today’s hearing, including all witness testimony and video, are available here.