February 14, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
For the first time since 2007, the FAA has the certainty of long-term authorization to operate the air traffic control system, build up airport infrastructure, and develop the air traffic control system of the future.
On Feb. 14, President Barack Obama signed the conference committee report for the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The bill provides a four-year, $63.4-billion authorization package for the agency, which has limped along on 23 short-term operating bills over the past five years.
The president’s signature—on a bill that is free of user fees or fuel-tax increases—has been awaited since House and Senate approval of the conference report in recent days.
Conference committee members of both parties still sparred on the merits of individual provisions but agreed broadly that passage of a long-term authorization measure for the FAA was long overdue.
“Today we have in place sound multi-year policies that reform FAA programs, eliminate expensive ticket subsidies, modernize our air traffic control system, improve airport infrastructure, reduce air traffic delays, and create jobs,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the sponsor of the bill in the House.
“We appreciate the leadership of Chairman Mica in getting an FAA reauthorization measure through Congress,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “The FAA has worked for far too long with only short-term extensions that simply couldn't provide the stability needed to support long-term projects like NextGen modernization.
“With the question of funding resolved through 2015, the FAA can focus on the real work ahead, from modernizing our air traffic system to improving our airport infrastructure. At the same time, the general aviation community can focus on recovery and growth in an industry that creates jobs, links communities, and serves as an important economic engine.”
Mica noted that the new law contains reforms that “will provide the blueprint, metrics, benchmarks and performance goals necessary for developing” the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
“This critical effort to shift from our antiquated air traffic control technology to a GPS-based system will improve air traffic efficiency and safety, reduce fuel burn and pollution from aircraft, and bring costs down for consumers,” he said.
AOPA reported Feb. 6 that the bill authorizes $13.4 billion in Airport Improvement Program funding. It contains language on through-the-fence operations ensuring that general aviation airport sponsors not be considered in violation of federal grant assurances for entering an agreement with a property owner adjacent to the airport for airport access.
The bill also established a timeline for the issuance of improved, tamper-resistant pilot certificates that can accommodate a photograph, digital photograph, biometric identifier, or other unique identifier.
Other provisions include requiring the Transportation Security Administration to use qualified private screeners, working under federal supervision, and a veterans’ preference for small businesses owned by disabled veterans of the Afghanistan/Iraq conflict, and the Persian Gulf War.
“We applaud the president for signing a four-year FAA reauthorization bill and for all the hard work that went into this bill,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.
Congress must still approve annual appropriations to fund the FAA at the levels authorized in the bill signed by the president.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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