Amidst the turmoil that has gripped Capitol Hill recently, Americans may have missed a non-controversial but significant action taken by Congress. On Monday evening, the House took a simple voice vote to pass a six-month extension of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization and avert a lapse in the agency’s funding.
The Senate quickly followed suit on Tuesday and unanimously sent the extension to the President’s desk. With the FAA authorization set to expire on Wednesday, this was an important step that will keep our nation’s aviation system up and running until the end of March. Unfortunately, it could also be an ominous one.
It was only three years ago that Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the 2012 FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act. It took 23 short-term extensions and a partial shutdown of the FAA to reach a bipartisan funding agreement. That shutdown cost the federal government nearly $30 million a day and created nightmare conditions for air travelers, airlines and their workers, and FAA employees, who had to contend with forced furloughs, severe flight delays and hazardous maintenance and repair bottlenecks.
Congress vowed to never let this happen again — and fortunately Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, are promising that this will be the only short-term patch on this bill. For the sake of the traveling public and the millions of hardworking Americans who rely on the aviation industry for their livelihoods, let’s hope members of Congress live up to this commitment and spare us the brinksmanship we witnessed last week as some in Congress tried to force a government shutdown.
The short-sighted approach Congress has taken in recent years to authorize and fund the FAA has had dire consequences and has jeopardized the safety and reliability of our national aviation system. Those 23 short-term extensions stalled the agency’s ability to plan for the future and compromised major investments — including the implementation of state-of-the-art, lifesaving technology and recruitment and training of desperately needed FAA staff — that have the power to breathe new life into our outdated aviation network.
We also know that past rewrites of aviation laws have been vehicles to address outstanding safety and health risks that have made this industry safer for both passengers and airline employees. The pending FAA bill should provide the same opportunity. But every time Congress has to pass a simple extension, efforts to address employee fatigue, impose stronger oversight of aircraft maintenance and set better rules for the transport of lithium batteries — to name just a few — will be delayed as well.
Given that America’s aviation industry supports 12 million jobs and more than $1.5 trillion in total economic activity, and accounts for 5.4 percent of our GDP, the importance of avoiding further FAA funding delays cannot be underestimated. We’re pleased that in the short-term Congress avoided another FAA shutdown battle, but now it is time to pass bipartisan FAA reauthorization legislation that places our aviation system on a more stable financial footing. Our nation’s economy — and the dedicated employees who keep our skies safe – depend on it.