Final FAA Reauthorization Deal Modifies Essential Air Service

Posted on: February 6th, 2012 by NADO Admin

After more than four years of extensions and delays, Congress reached a final agreement this week on a four-year reauthorization for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs.  The House-Senate conference report (H.R. 658, H. Rpt. 112-381) authorizes $15.8 billion annually for federal aviation programs through FY2015.

The future of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program was among the most contentious issues between House and Senate leaders.  The final agreement includes a compromise on funding and policy reforms for the rural-focused program.  While the deal calls for annual reductions in discretionary spending for the program, dropping from $142 million in FY2012 to $93 million by FY2015, these discretionary funding cutbacks will be backfilled by an increase in mandatory funds.  As a result, the EAS program will receive $199 million each year in FY2013 through FY2015. The increase in mandatory funding will be generated by an increase in the overflight fee charged on foreign airliners using U.S. airspace but not landing in the country.

House and Senate leaders also adopted additional EAS reforms.  The deal preserves the program yet eliminates airports that see fewer than 10 passenger flights per day, with exceptions for airports in Hawaii and Alaska and those located more than 175 driving miles from large or medium hubs. (The U.S. DOT Secretary may also grant waivers).  In addition, the compromise prevents new communities from entering the EAS program and limits the program to those communities participating in the program in FY2011.

The Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which is the primary FAA program for local airport improvements, is reduced from $3.5 billion to $3.35 billion per year.  This program has been essentially level funded for the past six years and will be held at $3.35 billion for the next four years.  In addition, the Small Community Air Service Program is authorized at $6 million per year, level with FY2012 appropriations.

Other highlights include:

  • Compromise language on a National Mediation Board (NMB) ruling that may have made it easier for labor unions to organize airlines under the Railway Labor Act.  Under the agreement, the NMB ruling would remain, but the legislation would raise the percentage of eligible bargaining-unit members needed to petition for a new union election from 35 percent to 50 percent.
  • Authorized eight additional round trip long-distance flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The full House approved the FAA conference agreement on February 3 while the Senate is expected to clear the measure for the President’s signature the week of February 6.

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