WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday approved a 23d short-term extension to fund the Federal Aviation Administration for another three weeks, the first step in averting a shutdown and giving lawmakers time to craft a long-awaited multi-year reauthorization bill.
The extension, approved by voice vote, makes no changes to current FAA rules or funding levels, but pushes the expiration date on the agency’s operating authority to Feb. 17. It had been set to expire Jan. 31. An early draft of the extension had pushed the deadline to the last day of February, but that plan was scrapped in favor of the shorter-term extension.
Lawmakers announced last week that they had reached a compromise settling a partisan disagreement about how rail and air workers should vote to unionize or decertify a union. That disagreement had held up any passage of a multi-year aviation funding bill.
Congress has not approved a long-term bill since the last one expired in 2007. The partisan divide, combined with the scarcity of legislative work days in January, stoked fears that the agency might be headed for a repeat of a July shutdown that cost the government millions in tax revenue.
With the shutdown fears put to rest, the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate can take some time to write a bill that both chambers can agree on.
“There are still some actual aviation issues,” one aviation industry lobbyist said, referring to unsettled technical issues that lawmakers must hammer out in the next three weeks.
House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he introduced the extension after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., notified him of the labor agreement.
“I agreed to bring up this extension to provide the time necessary to complete work on a few remaining issues and comply with notification requirements for considering legislation,” Mica said. “We must bring to conclusion a long-term FAA bill to help create jobs, modernize our nation’s aviation infrastructure and air traffic control system, and streamline and reform FAA programs as soon as possible.”
Industry advocates had become increasingly pessimistic about whether lawmakers would reach a compromise on the labor issue anytime soon. Now that they have, the major question is how much money they will grant the agency in a longer-term bill.
In addition to regulating U.S. aviation, the FAA also provides public airports funding for infrastructure expansions and improvements, which is sometimes used in conjunction with bonds. An airport lobbyist said a long-term FAA funding measure would give airport authorities a better starting point for long-term planning on projects like new runways and expanded terminals.
One lobbyist said his “best guess” was a status quo annual funding level of $3.35 billion. “I don’t know if this will be a good bill for airports or not,” another aviation industry advocate said. “I don’t think the funding is going to go our way.”
The Senate is expected to approve the extension in the coming days.