FAA Conference Report: Positive Steps, Missed Opportunities

Latertoday the Senate will vote on the Conference Report on the Federal AviationAdministration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. Although the bill takes many positivesteps forward, it ultimately missed several opportunities for savings andreforms that fiscal conservatives had sought.

Since2007 the FAA has been lurching from short-term extension to short-termextension (23 in all), which has become a serious logistical impediment for theaviation sector’s attempt to modernize and grow. The Conference Report wouldreauthorize FAA operations and programs for four years, thus creating a morestable funding path for the agency and predictability for the aviation sector.Moreover, it does so without worsening the already onerous tax burden on airtravel. Given that consumers can often face a higher effective tax rate ontheir airline tickets than they do on their 1040 tax returns, it’s too badCongress couldn’t go one step further and actually provide relief from thisheavy tax load.

The bill makes incremental (and in some casessolid) progress on a number of other issues. Although funding for the wastefulEssential Air Service has not been eliminated, the modest eligibilityrestrictions in the legislation could provide a starting point for deeperreforms. Language was also included to increase airports’ ability to hireprivate security screeners in place of Transportation Security Administration(TSA) workers. Furthermore, the package would make improvements to a NationalMediation Board rule so as to better balance labor organizations’ attempts tounionize a workplace with the rights of workers to not participate in unionactivity.

Despitethis progress, the Conference Report’s elevated authorization levels remain amajor concern. NTU has previously expressed its support for the House-passedFAA Reauthorization Bill, which would have funded the FAA at 2008 levels. Bycontrast the Conference Report would extend FAA funding at inflated 2011 levels– a $3.8 billion increase. At a time when taxpayers are expecting governmentagencies to do more with less, the Conference Report could have been moreaggressive at restraining expenditures and reinforcing a private sector-drivenmodel that allows our aviation industry to more effectively innovate and evolve.Bottom line: even as lawmakers line up to vote for this compromise legislation,Congress could have done – and in the near future will need to do – more toensure aviation policy is on a fiscally and economically desirable flight path.