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Congress Passes Reducing Flight Delays Act To Restore Funding For ATC
By Daniel Baxter

April 27, 2013 - On Friday the U.S. House passed the Reducing Flight Delays Act (H R 1765) and on Thursday the Senate passed the same bill (S. 853). This legislation will provide the Secretary of Transportation with the flexibility to transfer certain funds to prevent reduced operations and staffing of the Federal Aviation Administration, and for other purposes as a result of sequestration. 

In 2011, sequestration was used in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA, P.L. 112-25) as a tool in federal budget control. This 2011 act authorized an increase in the debt ceiling in exchange for $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction over the following ten years. 

This total included $1.2 trillion in spending cuts identified specifically in the legislation, with an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts that were to be determined by a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives known as the "Super Committee" or officially as the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.


The Super Committee failed to reach an agreement. In that event, a trigger mechanism in the bill was activated to implement across the board reductions in the rate of increase in spending known as "sequestration". As a result of sequestration the FAA had no choice but to furlough its air traffic controllers in order to follow the law. On Thursday the same bill was approved by the Senate by unanimous consent. 

The bill will provide the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the authority to utilize unspent Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds and additional flexibility to transfer other funding within the FAA, up to $253 million, to prevent reduced operations and staffing during fiscal year 2013. 

This legislative solution will ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system. The legislation does not increase the FAA’s budget authority or exceed the 2011 Budget Control Act limits. On Sunday, the FAA began furloughs of 47,000 employees due to the sequester that have led to significant flight delays across the aviation system.



Senator Rockefeller said “by plugging a hole in the budget and providing the FAA with crucial funds to operate the air traffic control system, we will eliminate flight delays due to inadequate staffing and keep America moving. This does not fix all of the problems the FAA faces because of budget cuts, especially for contract towers in rural communities. And it does nothing for other essential government operations and employees that also desperately need relief. But it's a start, and I'm committed to keep working on more solutions.” 

Senator Collins said “the challenges the FAA faces this fiscal year are daunting not only is the agency operating under a continuing resolution but sequestration compounds the problem. It’s unfortunate that these irresponsible cuts led to widespread delays to the air transportation system.” 

The U.S. Travel Association applauded the swift action and passage of bipartisanship legislation in the Senate and House to end sequester-induced Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs that are causing flight delays nationwide, but noted its concern in regards to the potential funding source which would direct funds from needed airport infrastructure projects. 

The legislation passed will eliminates air traffic employee furloughs through the end of September. However, while this legislation averts the short-term crisis there are other issues at hand such as funding source for the FAA after September and concerns with the provisions in the bill that allow airport infrastructure funds to be transferred to air traffic control services as U.S. airport infrastructure is approaching a dire state. 

At a time when we should be modernizing our infrastructure to improve efficiency, capacity and U.S. global competitiveness, sequestration related issues should not be solved on the backs of airports. It is crucial that the Department of Transportation do everything in its power to find appropriate savings to fund air traffic controllers and avoid transferring funds away from critical airport infrastructure. 

Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) commending the swift passage of the Reducing Flight Delays Act, which gives the U.S. Secretary of Transportation the ability to transfer funds within the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget to prevent furloughs of essential employees, including air traffic controllers. 

“Today’s U.S. House vote, together with the approval by the U.S. Senate last night, marks critical progress in getting this country’s air transportation system back to full staffing and giving the nation’s airline industry the opportunity to realize peak efficiency while achieving the highest standards of safety. 

“Airline passengers and air cargo shippers, along with pilots, other airline industry employees, and the communities we serve, will all benefit from this bipartisan solution. We urge the Administration to act with all possible haste to ensure that the U.S. air transportation system is positioned to succeed in delivering the highest standards of safety and efficiency.” 

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association stated “After just one week of furloughs, it is abundantly clear that a fully staffed air traffic control workforce is necessary for our national airspace system to operate at full capacity. The nation’s air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals take great pride in their work and want nothing more than to be in their towers and radar facilities, working each and every flight. 

“Thanks to the action taken this week in Congress, they will be able to return to work full time. We applaud the bipartisan nature of the votes and look forward to working closely with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the newly granted flexibility is exercised in a way that maintains our national airspace system’s status as the safest and most efficient in the world”.

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