Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Protectionism for Aviation on Hold...For Now

Due to the dominance of the health care reform agenda, Congress has reportedly run out of steam for passing the controversial 2009 FAA Reauthorization Act.  See Jim Abrams, Congress Puts Off Action on Road, Air Bills, Associated Press, Sept. 22, 2009 (available here).  From the story:

The House in May passed a bill authorizing $70 billion for the FAA over three years. The Senate Commerce Committee in July approved a two-year, $35 billion bill. Both measures concentrate money on the NextGen satellite-based air traffic control system that will make the nation's airways significantly safer and more efficient.

But the Senate Finance Committee, which is working on health care legislation, has yet to complete work on the tax provisions in the FAA bill.

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, believes the FAA has broad bipartisan support and that it's critical for the Senate act on it this calendar year, said spokeswoman Jena Longo. But "floor time is of great concern," she said.

Even if the Senate took action, there would be serious policy differences to work out with the House. The House bill, for example, would allow airports to raise passenger facility charges from $4.50 to $7 a ticket. It also has angered the European Union by directing more U.S. inspections of overseas aircraft repair stations. Another provision of the House bill would make it easier for unions to organize FedEx truck drivers and other non-aviation employees.

Both the House and Senate bills have provisions to improve the rights of air travelers, but the Senate Commerce version specifies that an air carrier must provide passengers the option to leave a plane after three hours of waiting on a runway.

This may be good news for the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and European Community for a "second stage" agreement to expand the traffic rights and cooperation provisions contained in the 2007 U.S./EC Air Transport Agreement.  Statesmen from across the Atlantic, including EU Ambassador John Bruton and former U.K. Transportation Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, both chastised the Reauthorization Bill as a potential roadblock to a second agreement.  In addition to the Act's troublesome provisions on foreign repair stations, the legislation would also end antitrust immunity for international alliances and tighten restrictions on foreign control of U.S. airlines.


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