FAA reauthorization ‘stuck on the tarmac’

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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week introduced another bill to reauthorize the currently leaderless and conflict-ridden Federal Aviation Administration. More than a year after the current act was first extended, new funding needed to tackle a host of aviation issues has been, as one Congressman put it, stuck on the tarmac.

The Center highlighted a number of FAA-related failures in its Broken Government project last year. This week, witnesses from the Government Accountability Office, Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, and a number of industry organizations warned that continuing to delay reauthorization would keep many of those concerns from being addressed. That includes developing the Next Generation air traffic control system (NextGen), addressing air controller and pilot fatigue, and drafting proper oversight of non-certificated repair facilities.

Much of the panel discussions were dominated by NextGen and what the ranking minority member John Mica (R-FL) referred to as the two-ton elephant in the room — ongoing rocky relations between FAA and the air traffic controllers who would run the new system. Recent collective bargaining disagreements created a rift that poses a “significant morale issue,” according to the inspector general.

National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Patrick Forrey presented a litany of complaints along with his union's overall support of the reauthorization bill. "If you make us part of the process, we'll be part of the solution," Forrey said regarding what he described as a "poorly defined and closely guarded" NextGen plan.

Though GAO took air traffic control modernization off its high-risk projects list last month for the first time in 14 years, the oversight body still expressed concern that the FAA must fully engage stakeholders such as controllers to avoid time and cost overruns during the move from decades-old radar technology to a more time-, cost-, and emission-efficient satellite system.

Stepping in at the last minute to testify, all acting FAA Assistant Administrator Nancy LoBue could do at many points was tell frustrated members of Congress that the FAA would get back to them on specific concerns. She repeatedly stressed that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised to make conflict resolution a top priority for the new FAA head, who will need, she said, “the people skills to resolve differences.”

Aviation subcommittee chair Jerry Costello (D-IL) said the administration is currently negotiating with its targeted candidate.

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