New Bill Would Protect FAA from Future Shutdowns

Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz on Unsplash.

A new bill introduced Friday would protect Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel from being furloughed should there be another government shutdown.

The Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019 would allow the agency to tap the resources of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to sustain its programs and pay its staff should a lack of funding otherwise cause the agency to close its doors. During the most recent shutdown more than 17,000 employees at the FAA — approximately 40 percent of the entire agency — were furloughed. This included the vast majority of aviation safety inspectors said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Rick Larsen (D-Washington), the sponsor and co-sponsor of the bill. DeFazio is the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Larsen chairs the House Subcommittee on Aviation.

The bill also authorizes the FAA to spend at the same level as it had the previous year.

During the recent shutdown personnel supporting the development of long-awaited regulations to allow broader use of unmanned aircraft were among those furloughed.

The Trust Fund gets its income from taxes on passenger tickets, airline fuel and other airspace user fees and is not dependent on the congressional appropriations process. Fund monies typically go to support technical improvements to the air traffic control system and airport safety and construction projects.

“The United States aviation system is the safest, busiest, most complex aviation system in the world—a system that was seriously jeopardized by the absurd 35-day government shutdown,” DeFazio and Larsen said in a statement. “Thousands of FAA safety personnel responsible for providing critical oversight of the U.S. aviation industry were furloughed. Our 14,000 air traffic controllers, and thousands of aviation safety and security professionals worked without pay. The effects of this most recent shutdown will be felt for years to come. This must not happen again. Our legislation ensures that in any future government shutdowns, all FAA programs will function uninterrupted and that all FAA employees can remain at work and paid.”

The bill was introduced February 8, just a week ahead of the February 15 deadline for Congress and the White House to reach a new spending agreement and stave off another partial shutdown.

“The 35-day shutdown was just the latest of many instances in which FAA, its workforce, and the aviation industry were held hostage by a political fight that had nothing to do with aviation,” said the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in a statement. “Stop-and-go funding crises wreak havoc on the personal lives of air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals, degrade the safety of the National Airspace System, delay critical modernization and infrastructure projects, and exacerbate the current controller staffing crisis.”

NATCA, which “strongly supports” the Aviation Funding Stability Act, is one of 15 aviation organizations throwing their weight behind the legislation. The list includes:

— Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)

— Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)

— Airlines for America (A4A)

— Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA)

— American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE)

— Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA)

— Delta Air Lines

— General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA)

— Helicopter Association International (HAI)

— International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)

— National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)

— National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)

— Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO (PASS)

— Regional Airline Association (RAA)

— Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)