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Wed, Sep 24, 2008

Congress Passes Yet Another Extension For FAA Funding

Would Keep Agency Funded Into March 2009

The Federal Aviation Administration will continue to operate, thanks to a short-term funding extension passed Tuesday by the US House of Representatives... but any hope for true reauthorization of the agency's agenda, and the money the FAA maintains it needs to implement it, will remain out of reach at least into early 2009.

According to Congressional Quarterly, the extension -- passed by voice vote -- will extend the FAA's current level of funding through March 31 of next year. That takes the measure out of the current 110th Congress' purview, forcing the next Congress to help hammer out a new plan with the next presidential administration.

"In order to continue to provide essential safety and capacity improvement funds to our airports we must pass this extension," said Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee. Without the extension, funding for the aviation agency would expire at the end of this month.

The fact that FAA reauthorization stalled isn't the House's fault. As ANN reported, representatives passed their own FAA reauthorization plan, H.R. 2881, in September 2007.

That placed the legislative burden on the Senate, which sent its version of the FAA bill to the floor for consideration in late April of this year. Debate on S.1300 came to a screeching halt soon thereafter, however, after lawmakers clashed over an amendment setting stricter rules for airline contributions to their employee pension funds.

When debate to end that loophole was dropped, attention turned to a slew of unrelated riders lawmakers attempted to attach to the bill, including a call to boost highway spending.

The resulting squabbling over such unrelated add-ons effectively killed the measure; proponents of the bill were unable to attain the 60 votes necessary to end the political wrangling, and to send the funding plan onto the Senate floor.

Both the House and Senate bills included increases to the general aviation fuel tax to provide additional funding each year for continued transformation toward a satellite-based aviation system, also known as "NextGen." What the bills didn't include -- and what many lawmakers wanted -- were 'gimmes' for the airlines, in the forms of higher passenger fees.

Tuesday's action was the third such extension to current FAA funding levels, since the Senate killed the bill in May.

FMI: www.house.gov, www.faa.gov

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