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FAA temporarily regains authorities after shutdown

By Hpanchal on August 29, 2011

In August, Congress passed a bill extending the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorities through September 16, putting an end to a 13-day FAA shutdown that resulted when the original extension wasn’t passed on time. Bill advocates call this latest agreement 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  before the bill was even on President Obama’s desk. “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.”

Soon after the extension passed into law, politicians began talking about implementing a long-term solution and not simply passing another extension when the current one elapses in mid-September.

“At a time when job creation must be our top priority, it is imperative that we stop playing politics and work together to find long-term solutions,” U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said in mid-August while visiting an airport in New Hampshire. “Without a long-term authorization, the FAA can’t plan effectively for major renovation projects or a badly needed overhaul of our air-traffic control system.”

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 rural airport subsidies should be cut and if 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 during the debate. “We can’t afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery.”

When the shutdown was finally over, FAA contractors resumed their renovations of air traffic control towers at Las Vegas-based McCarran International Airport; LaGuardia Airport; Gulfport, Miss.-based Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport; Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Battle Creek International Airport and California-based Palm Springs International Airport, among others.

The shutdown had also increased the possibility that San Francisco International Airport, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Chicago O’Hare International, Newark Liberty International Airport and Huntsville International Airport in Alabama would miss the September 1 deadline for servicing Boeing 747-8 freighters.

To U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah, the end of the FAA shutdown signaled 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.”

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