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Sat, Apr 26, 2008

Compromise Reached In Senate On FAA Funding

Cloture Vote Monday On Four-Year Reauthorization Plan

On Friday, the Senate Finance and Commerce Committees reached agreement on a common bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration for the next four years... putting an end to seven months of bureaucratic stalling on the measure.

According to numerous news reports, the bill maintains a 65 percent increase on fuel taxes for business-jet operators to fund upgrades to the nation's air traffic control system, from 21.8 cents to 36 cents per gallon.

Conversely, the compromise bill does not include a $25-per-trip fee originally proposed for turbine-powered aircraft on IFR flight plans, which was bandied by West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Under the Senate plan -- the result of a compromise struck by Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Finance Committee chairman Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) -- a new $400 million FAA account dedicated to upgrading ATC services to the much-bandied "NextGen" system will be created, with the increase in the fuel excise tax on Jet-A for bizav users contributing another $240 million annually on top of that.

"This agreement is a good down payment toward ending the growing inequities that exist between airline passengers and corporate jet users," Rockefeller said Friday.

In a bit of good news for airline passengers -- at a time when they could really use some -- the compromise also holds passenger fees and taxes to current levels, though the House version of the FAA funding bill (H.R. 2881) would raise those charges. Apart from that significant difference, the Senate bill (S.1300) closely mirrors the House plan, which was approved back in September.

News of the compromise agreement was met with measured approval by the National Business Aviation Association. "We applaud the continuing work Congress has done on this very important issue," said CEO Ed Bolen.

US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will hold a cloture vote Monday, April 28, at 1730 EDT on the bill. Reid will hold the vote to limit debate on a motion to proceed to the FAA reauthorization bill, putting a cap on the never-ending debate that has stalled the legislation in the Senate since September 2007. The vote would also prevent senators from filibustering.

"We are deeply appreciative of the leadership of both the Senate Commerce and Finance committees, in particular Chairman Rockefeller, in crafting a bill that recognizes the importance of not adding new taxes on airline passengers during a time of skyrocketing fuel costs," noted James C. May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association. "The modest increase in what corporate jets would pay is a step in the right direction, but we note that it still falls short of the costs they impose on the system."

In related news, ANN received late word Friday the bill also includes language on a so-called "passengers bill of rights" legislation.

FMI: www.senate.gov, www.faa.gov, www.airlines.org

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