One of the first orders of business when Congress returns from its August recess will be approving the FAA reauthorization bill. The Senate adjourned last week without approving the bill, which includes a limited prohibition against privatizing air traffic control. And that prohibition is likely to lead to a contentious debate when the lawmakers return to work.
The compromise legislation prohibits privatizing aircraft control and separation for four years. AOPA believes that despite that less than satisfactory language, the bill is good for general aviation and, at the request of several influential senators, sent a letter to all senators asking them to vote "yes."
"AOPA was extremely disappointed that the conferees gave in to administration demands for a sunset clause that means air traffic controllers will be at risk again in four years," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But on balance, the bill does buy us four more years to change the administration's mind, and it contains too many other good things for general aviation for us not to support it."
Some Democrats have threatened to derail the compromise bill because the privatization language only protects the control and separation functions of ATC and could cost unionized flight service station and equipment maintenance personnel their jobs if those functions are contracted out.
Besides buying time before ATC control and separation functions could be privatized, the bill, known as "Vision 100," also addresses the inherent unfairness of the "pilot insecurity rule." That rule allows the Transportation Security Administration to direct the FAA to revoke a pilot's certificate on the grounds that the pilot is a national security risk. As currently written, if the revocation order is based on classified information, the TSA can withhold that information from the pilot, making it impossible to mount a defense. And currently, the pilot's only recourse is to appeal the revocation to the TSA, the agency that ordered it in the first place. Language in Vision 100 would provide a third-party review and would make sure that the reviewing party has adequate clearance to see any classified information.
The reconciled version of the reauthorization bill also contains the "Meigs Legacy" amendment, which would slap any airport sponsor who closes an airport without adequate notification with a $10,000 per day fine.
The current legislation expires September 30, the end of the current federal fiscal year.