Disaster relief spat reduces US air traffic control’s funding to fresh game of ‘political chicken’

US legislators have failed to extend Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding beyond October due to an unrelated fight over disaster-relief funding.

Congress had voted 245-171 on Monday to extend FAA taxes until March 31, to give legislators more time to debate contentious provisions dealing with air traffic control and pilot training. But the measure was debated under rules that required a two-thirds majority for passage.

Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans opposed the bill that combined the FAA extension with disaster funding because victims of recent hurricanes would get benefits that had not been approved in 2012.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) urged swift passage of the FAA authorisation extension.

“NATCA is concerned that once again, the FAA authorisation process has turned into a game of political chicken. We must have a stable, predictable funding stream for the FAA and its employees to operate and maintain the safest, most efficient, most complex, most diverse National Airspace System (NAS) in the world.

While approval of the FAA portion of the bill is expected by Saturday, NATCA warned that authorisation is not extended, employees will be temporarily laid off and some FAA services will be suspended.

“The FAA also will lose the ability to generate revenue into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund through the collection of aviation ticket and fuel taxes. Even if Congress avoids an FAA shutdown, the preparation for a shutdown takes critical resources away from FAA’s mission. This is especially unacceptable because it comes at a time when FAA employees have worked tirelessly to restore aviation services in areas that have been devastated by recent hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” it said.

“The FAA should not be subject to shutdown threats, based on issues that have nothing to do with aviation. This situation highlights the importance of NATCA’s call for a stable, predictable funding stream that adequately supports air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernisation projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernisation to the physical infrastructure. NATCA calls on Congress to quickly pass the FAA extension bill, The Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017, and maintain FAA operations without further interruption.”

It said the lack of a stable, predictable funding stream for the NAS continues to be a major challenge. Prior to passage of the FAA Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012, NATCA noted that America’s 24/7 aviation system has been forced to overcome 23 authorisation extensions, including a partial shutdown. Since its expiration, the NAS also has experienced three more extensions. Additionally, in the past five years the FAA has experienced a partial shutdown, a complete government shutdown, as well as numerous threatened shutdowns due to lapses or near-lapses in appropriations.

“We have faced significant challenges during the last decade, because we have not had a stable, predictable funding stream. Nothing illustrates that more than the current 28-year low of fully certified air traffic controllers. Controller staffing has been a major concern for years, but it reached a crisis level in 2015,” NATCA said.

“The total number of fully certified professional controllers (CPCs) has dropped 10 per cent since 2011 and continues to decline. The most recent FAA count indicates there are 10,595 CPCs. This number represents the disturbing continuation of a sharp five-year decline. Despite some incremental progress since late 2015, the current total of CPCs is more than 2,300 short of the FAA’s overall operational target of 12,896.”

Addressing the House, Shuster warned what was potentially at stake should Congress fail to pass this FAA extension contained within The Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act. He said that from October 1:

  • No aviation taxes will be collected. Approximately $40 million dollars of revenue will be lost each day.
  • This is revenue that would have been used for airport infrastructure funding, and the FAA’s important safety, operational, and research functions.
  • No new Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants will be issued to airports in communities across the country.
  • All FAA accounts funded out of the aviation trust fund—the Facilities and Equipment, AIP, and Research, Engineering, and Development accounts—will be impacted.
  • Thousands of employees will be furloughed and some will be required to show up to work for no pay.

“The FAA extension we are considering this week is not a pawn in a Washington game of political brinksmanship. It is time for Congress to ensure the FAA’s authorities, funding, and disaster recovery efforts continue uninterrupted in order to help those impacted by the hurricanes and so desperately in need. I urge all my colleagues to support this critical legislation.”

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One Response to Disaster relief spat reduces US air traffic control’s funding to fresh game of ‘political chicken’

  1. Cathy Tribby says:

    Well who are the dumb asses that attach things together for a vote that have nothing to do with each other. Sorry excuse for the Shuster bill, just another deal to line the congressman’s pockets! NO PRIVATIZATION!!! Now do your job like the rest of us have to give the FAA a budget (year)! And stop acting like a bunch of kids.