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Thu, Jun 28, 2007

House Committee Adds Two Amendments To FAA Reauthorization Bill

May Spell Trouble For Bill's Chances Of Avoiding Bush Veto

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 06.28.07 1900 EDT: Bring on the amendments. On Thursday, the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee voted to include two amendments which have strong support in Congress... but may endanger the bill's chances of avoiding a presidential veto.

Confirming earlier reports, the committee overwhelmingly voted to include the Costello Amendment, which proposed to send the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association back to the bargaining table for 45 days. If the two sides aren't able to hammer out a mutually favorable contract -- and if the past is any indication, there's little to no chance of that happening -- the two sides would then go to binding arbitration. The amendment also contains so-called "reachback provisions," which would reimburse controllers for back pay retroactive to 2005.

The Bush administration is strongly opposed to such a plan -- a point lamented by many Republican lawmakers, who nevertheless voted in support of the amendment on Thursday.

The second amendment, called the Oberstar Amendment, would move FedEx Corporation's operations from under the 1926 Railway Labor Act -- which prevents local businesses from forming their own unions, instead calling for unionization on a national scale -- to the National Labor Relations Act. The latter governs most of FedEx's competitors, including UPS, and would give individual FedEx operations the right to seek out their own labor unions.

Again, that's not a plan expected to be met with cheers from the White House. In fact, the Bush administration has already threatened to veto any FAA Reauthorization Bill containing either amendment... and this one has both.

Stay tuned.

Original Report

06.28.07 1200 EDT: Late Wednesday night, the US House of Representatives issued its draft FAA legislation by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee... and it is most notable, for what it doesn't include.

At the top of the list of what's missing from H.R. 2881, are user fees... mostly. While it appears true the bill holds to promises made by House lawmakers over the past several weeks -- that the most onerous proposed charges would be scrapped -- the costs of pilot certificates, airworthiness certificates, and aircraft registrations will rise under the House plan. And sharply.

To offset the costs of implementing the FAA's proposed "NextGen" air traffic control system, the House bill does increase fuel taxes -- 21.8 cents per gallon to 30.7 cents per gallon for jet fuel, while avgas would see a 25 percent increase, from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon.

Also left off the draft legislation is language meant to settle an ongoing labor contract dispute between the FAA, and its unions -- especially, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Congressional Quarterly reports unions have been pushing to change a 1996 law, governing the way the agency conducts itself if an impasse is declared in negotiations. As we saw during last year's talks between the agency and NATCA, that law gives the FAA the right to unilaterally impose its most recent contract offer, so long as Congress does not intervene.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were pressing for a change that would send the contracts to binding arbitration instead -- a move the Bush administration is opposed to.

In the interest of presenting the FAA draft as a bipartisan bill, the contract language was left out completely. Florida Rep. John Mica, the committee's top Republican, threatened to withdraw his sponsorship of the bill if the calls for binding arbitration were included.

"We’re under the gun but we've moved it forward, we've done everything we can to try to get a resolution on the labor dispute," Mica said. "But it continues to dominate the bill, unfortunately."

All may not be lost for parties pushing for binding arbitration, though. Supporters of the plan intend to instead offer those provisions as an amendment to the draft Thursday.

Mica told CQ Wednesday night the draft proposal also would not include a proposed "Passengers Bill of Rights" for airline travelers.

ANN will have more details on the bill as they become available, as well as reaction throughout the industry to the bill. Stay tuned.

FMI: www.faa.gov, http://transportation.house.gov

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