CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
H.R. 915 will likely be considered under a structured rule. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) on February 9, 2009.
H.R. 915 reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding and safety oversight programs for four years with a total authorized spending level of $70 billion. Specifically, the bill includes $16.2 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), $13.4 billion for FAA Facilities & Equipment ("F&E"), $38.9 billion for FAA Operations; and $1.35 billion for Research, Engineering, and Development ("RE&D").
H.R. 915 increases the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) on airline flights from $4.50 to $7. In addition, the bill increases Essential Air Service (EAS) funding from $77 million to $150 million and includes new safety programs and staffing.
Passenger Facility Fees: H.R. 915 allows the Secretary of Transportation to authorize airport agencies to charge up to $7 per passenger in Passenger Facility Fees. Under current law, fees of up to $4.50 are allowed. These fees fund airport infrastructure programs.
Funding for Aviation Programs: The bill alters the funding formula Airport and Airways Trust Fund (Trust Fund), making only 90 percent of expected end-of-year revenues available, rather than 100 percent. The change is an attempt to mitigate against optimistic revenue projections that have contributed to the Trust Fund dropping from $7.3 billion in 2001 to $800 million in 2009.
Registration Fees: H.R. 915 requires the FAA to impose new fees on eleven activities, including registering an aircraft registration, issuance of aircraft certificates, issuance of special registrations, recording security interests, replacing or issuing airman certificates, and legal opinions for aircraft registration or recordation
Overflight Fees: The bill directs the FAA to increase fees for navigational services provided for flights which neither take off nor land in the United States. These fees are typically paid by foreign air carriers.
FAA Operations: H.R. 915 authorizes $38.8 billion over Fiscal Years 2009-2012 for FAA operations, largely for salaries and expenses related to operating the air traffic control system.
Air Navigation Facilities and Equipment: The bill authorizes $13.4 billion over Fiscal Years 2009-2012 for facilities and equipment, primarily infrastructure and communications, navigation, and radar surveillance.
Airport Improvement Program: This legislation authorizes $12.3 billion over Fiscal Years 2010-2012 in contract authority for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). This program provides grants to airports to enhance safety and increase airport capacity.
Research, Engineering and Development: H.R. 915 authorizes $900 million over Fiscal Years 2009-2012 for aviation-related research and development.
FAA Personnel Management: This bill establishes a new process for resolving disputes between the FAA and employees in collective bargaining units, specifically the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NACTA). Under this bill, any changes in personnel policy implemented by the FAA after July 25, 2005, for collective bargaining units without current contracts would be null and void, and the parties would be governed by their last mutual agreement. H.R. 915 also specifies conditions under which employees could receive back pay and would specifically authorize $20 million for such payments. H.R. 915 would require the FAA to resume negotiations with NATCA and other collective bargaining units that do not have current contracts. If agreements are not reached within 45 days of resuming negotiations, the new dispute resolution process set forth in the bill would apply.
Essential Air Service: H.R. 915 permanently the authorization for the Essential Air Service (EAS) from $77 million annually to $150 million per year. Under EAS, the Department of Transportation makes payments to air carriers which provide service to certain rural communities.
Aviation Safety Inspectors: The bill authorizes $418 million over Fiscal Years 2010-2012 for the FAA to hire more staff to inspect the aviation system, including aircraft safety and cabin safety.
Other Authorization Provisions:
• $128 million for research on reducing the environmental impacts of operating aircraft and aircraft engines.
• $105 million for the Small Community Air Service Development Program.
• $95 million for redesigning the nation's air space.
• $24 million for aviation data collection and analysis.
• $80 million for reports and studies by the FAA, Department of Transportation, and other agencies.
Air Carrier Mandates: The bill imposes several mandates on air carriers, including prohibiting passengers from using cell phones or other services known as voice over Internet protocol during a domestic commercial flight. H.R. 915 would also require air carriers to provide training for flight attendants and gate attendants regarding serving alcohol, dealing with disruptive passengers, and recognizing intoxicated persons. The bill also requires air carriers to submit emergency contingency plans to the Department of Transportation. These plans must include how the air carrier would provide food, water, restroom facilities, and deplaning options for passengers on planes that are on the ground for extended periods of time.
The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure reported H.R. 915 by voice vote on March 5, 2009. This legislation is based on H.R. 2881, which the House passed in the 110th Congress despite strong Republican opposition. The Senate never considered that bill. Ranking Member Mica (R-FL) opposes passage of this year's FAA reauthorization bill.
Funding authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration's programs is set to expire in September 2009. Congress has not passed a long-term FAA authorization since the last one expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2007. This represents the longest period of time that the FAA has gone unauthorized, surviving on a series of Congressional extensions.
The Airport Improvement Program is funded entirely by the Trust Fund, which is in turn supported by various taxes on aviation users. The Trust Fund was created in 1970 to provide a long-term source of funding to develop airports and the air traffic control system.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 915 would increase discretionary spending by $44 billion over 2009-2014, increase net direct spending by $46 million over 2009-2014 and $357 million over 2009-2019. Enacting this bill would also reduce revenues by $14 million over 2009-2014 and $231 million over the 2009-2019 period.
Members may have several concerns with H.R. 915:
Air Traffic Controllers: The bill would retroactively reinstate the Air Traffic Controllers' 1998 labor contract, provide $20 million in back pay, and force the FAA back to the table to renegotiate. The CBO estimates that this will cost $1 billion through Fiscal Year 2012.
Foreign Repair Stations: H.R. 915 requires unnecessary and labor-intensive biannual FAA inspections of foreign repair stations, even when no safety risk is identified. This requirement undermines bilateral agreements and risks costly retaliatory actions by foreign governments. This provision may threaten as many as 130,000 American jobs at dually-certified repair stations in U.S.
Anti-Trust Immunity Sunset: This bill would terminate airline code-share alliance agreements between airlines and the U.S. Government, thus risking U.S. carriers' global competitiveness, and threatening 15,000 domestic airline jobs.
FedEx: This legislation would place Fed Ex under the National Labor Relations Act. This action in turn would allow local employee strikes to shut down nationwide Fed Ex air operations. Currently, FedEx is covered by the Railway Labor Act, as are all air companies.
Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Standards for Airports: H.R. 915 requires additional costly training, equipment, and personnel particularly onerous for small and medium airports, and may cause some airports to shut down.
OSHA Requirements: H.R. 915 proscribes a new OSHA standard for aircraft cabins and creates, at an unknown cost, new Cabin Occupational Safety and Health Inspectors, solely devoted to OSHA inspections.
Bicycle Storage: This bill utilizes scarce funds to pay for bike storage facilities rather than reducing lines at airports.
Mandates: H.R. 915 imposes several mandates on air carriers, including prohibiting passengers from using cell phones or other services known as voice over Internet protocol during a domestic commercial flight. H.R. 915 would also require air carriers to provide training for flight attendants and gate attendants regarding serving alcohol, dealing with disruptive passengers, and recognizing intoxicated persons. Finally, the bill requires air carriers to submit emergency contingency plans to the Department of Transportation for when planes are on the ground for extended periods of time without terminal access. These plans must include how the air carrier would provide food, water, restroom facilities, and deplaning options for passengers during these situations.