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FAA to temporarily regain authorities with bill passage

By control on August 5, 2011

Congress has passed a bill extending the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorities through September 16, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign later today. Putting an end to the 13-day FAA shutdown, bill advocates call this extension a victory for the U.S. economy and furloughed aviation employees alike.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid falls into this category, although he warns that the solution is only temporary. “I am pleased to announce that we have been able to broker a bipartisan compromise between the House and the Senate to put 74,000 transportation and construction workers back to work,” he said in a statement. “This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that.”

The FAA lost its authorities on July 22 after Congress failed to pass H.R. 2553, a bill that would have extended taxes on fuel, airline tickets and airfreight until September 17. In addition to furloughing 4,000 FAA employees and 70,000 construction workers, Congress’ inaction delayed multimillion-dollar initiatives to modernize air traffic control towers at airports nationwide. And the FAA shutdown cost the government nearly $30 million a day.

Although Congress had already extended the FAA bill 20 times, a bipartisan dispute prevented history from repeating itself. The issue surrounded whether subsidies should be cut for service to rural areas and whether the unionization of airline workers should be encumbered.

Obama applauded the Senate for putting an end to the infighting and looking at the vast implications of the bill. “I’m pleased that leaders in Congress are working together to break the impasse involving the FAA so that tens of thousands of construction workers and others can go back to work,” he said in a statement. “We can’t afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward.”

With the shutdown presumed to be over, the FAA can resume its renovations of air traffic control towers at Las Vegas-based McCarran International Airport; New York-based LaGuardia Airport; Gulfport, Miss.-based Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport; Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Battle Creek International Airport and California-based Palm Springs International Airport, among others.

It will also increase the possibility that San Francisco International Airport, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Chicago O’Hare International, Newark Liberty International Airport and Huntsville International Airport in Ala. will meet the September 1 deadline for servicing Boeing 747-8 freighters.

To U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah, the presumed end of the FAA shutdown signals good news for the aviation sector and the U.S. economy as a whole. “The FAA is back in business, and 74,000 American workers are back on the job,” he said in a statement. “Work remains to be done to resolve the underlying issues. [The] temporary resolution of the FAA shutdown is a small but positive step for our economy and for our nation’s vital infrastructure.”