AASHTO Journal

FAA Reauthorization Act Tables ATC Privatization, Maintains Funding

​The House passed a new five-year, $104 billion bill to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs on April 27 that did away with a controversial provision floated last year that would have spun air traffic control (ATC) duties away from the agency to a non-profit corporation.

The "FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018" (HR 4) passed 393-14, with disaster relief amendments approved by voice vote.

From the perspective of state departments of transportation, the key feature of the FAA Act is that it creates a steady and multi-year stream of funding for aviation needs.

According to analysis by AASHTO staff, the act: Extends aviation excise taxes and Airport and Airways Trust Fund contract authority through 2023; provides more disaster aid for hurricane and wildfire recovery via the Disaster Recovery Reform Act or DRRA, which is using the FAA bill as a "legislative vehicle" for passage.

ReaganAirport.jpgThe House debated some 120 additions to the bill, including the Denham-Cuellar-Costa amendment, which passed by a 222-193 vote. According to the American Trucking Associations, that amendment prevents states from creating, in its words, a "patchwork" of meal-and-rest rules for interstate truck drivers.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Jim Costa, D-Calif., their "meal-and-rest rule" amendment "clarified" a requirement in a 1994 aviation law which in turn blocks legislation passed by California in 2011.

California's law required employers to provide a "duty-free" 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day, as well as a second "duty-free" 30-minute meal break for people who work more than 10 hours a day. The Denham-Cuellar-Costa amendment now supersedes such state rules, creating instead a "uniform nationwide set of requirements" that preempts state laws and regulations.

Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastrcuture Committee, noted in a statement that the FAA Act overall "ensures long-term investment and stability in aviation infrastructure for America's large, small, and rural communities, and it addresses issues to help maintain the safety of our system."

He added that the inclusion of the DRRA within the FAA Act would also help communities take more "proactive approach to mitigating the impacts of disasters before they strike and not waiting until afterwards to simply pick up the pieces."

The DRRA provides broad reforms to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in particular increasing the federal emphasis on "pre-disaster planning and mitigation." Ultimately, Shuster believes that DRRA rider will "save lives, save property, and save taxpayer dollars."

In general, committee worksheets said every $1 spent on pre-disaster mitigation would likely save $4 to $8 in avoided recovery costs.

The FAA Act also takes over from the current FAA funding extension enacted in March as part of the 2018 omnibus spending package; an FAA funding extension that expires September 30.

"I'm glad we finally had the opportunity to come together and introduce a bipartisan, long-term FAA reauthorization bill – a bill that gives the FAA long-term funding it needs to do its job and includes mandates to improve aviation safety," echoed Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member on the T&I committee.

Sen. John Thune, R-S. Dakota, the chairman of Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate – updated from legislation he proposed last year – and said he'd act on it once that House passed its FAA legislation. Yet the Thune-sponsored bill only authorizes the FAA through 2021, not 2023 as in the House measure, and doesn't include any disaster spending.

Photo: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport / Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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