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Senate passes FAA billSenate passes FAA bill

The U.S. Senate late Friday passed the FAA's four-year reauthorization bill. The bill, which sets the agencies spending limits, had been hung up in the Senate over the issue of privatization. The logjam was broken finally when the FAA promised not to outsource any jobs currently performed by FAA employees for the rest of the fiscal year (until September 30, 2004).

"There are many good things for general aviation in this bill," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "and we're pleased that there is short-term protection against privatizing air traffic control. But it lacks the long-term protection we want. It's clear that the privatization issue is far from dead. We will have our work cut out for us in the future."

The positives in the reauthorization bill—also called Vision 100, The Century of Aviation Act—include a third-party review before the TSA can revoke an airman's certificate for security reasons (to protect pilots from the "pilot insecurity rule"); the Meigs Field amendment, which prohibits closure of an airport without sufficient notice; and more than $14 billion for airport construction, much of that earmarked for general aviation airports.

AOPA had lobbied for all of these provisions and had initially supported the legislation.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill originally contained legislative prohibitions against privatizing air traffic control. But when the bills arrived in conference committee, those prohibitions were stripped out because the Bush administration threatened a veto over the privatization issue. It was at that point that AOPA, unlike most other aviation organizations, withdrew its support for the bill.

"Privatizing air traffic control and user fees are hot-button issues for our members," said Boyer. "Despite all the other benefits in the bill, without a guarantee against privatization, AOPA couldn't endorse the legislation."

The promise from the FAA does stop privatization for a little under a year. And FAA Administrator Blakey has repeatedly said that there are no plans to turn air traffic control and separation (outside of the existing contract tower program) over to private industry.

But as Boyer said at AOPA Expo in October, "Administrator Blakey says she has absolutely no intention to privatize ATC, and we take her at her word. But what about the next administrator? Or a new administration? Without protections in the law, the threat of privatization remains."

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