Happy New (Legislative) Year

Author: 
Brad Mims
Published in: 
January-February
2009




Brad Mims' career in the transportation industry spans three decades, including executive-level responsibility for communications, government affairs, policy, administration and project implementation. Currently, Mims is vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff in Washington, D.C. He has served as a board member for Airport Consultants Council and Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.

With the advent of the new year, we are all very cautiously anticipating a comprehensive strategy from our national leaders to address the national economic recession.

President-elect Barack Obama has put his new transportation leadership team in place and we anticipate a fast start to address our nation's infrastructure challenges. We eagerly anticipate our new secretary of transportation and FAA administrator getting their teams in place to begin addressing very pressing issues in the aviation market.

After two very frustrating years of short-term authorizing extensions, Congress has yet to pass the FAA Reauthorization Bill. The current extension expires in March 2009. As a new Congress convenes, new legislation will have to be introduced and approved by House and Senate authorizing committees and approved by both bodies.

In the House of Representatives there has been little change on the Authorizing Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It is anticipated that a new House bill will move swiftly toward passage in mid-2009. However, in the Senate, a more deliberative body, there will be a new chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; and it is anticipated that the bill's passage will take longer as a result of this new leadership. In the meantime, our industry remains hamstrung in efforts to plan and build aviation infrastructure that will improve airport capacity and bring our airport facilities up to 21st century safety and security standards.

As the Obama administration begins and the new Congress convenes, we must push our leaders to move swiftly to develop a consensus on many important and vexing aviation issues. The Reauthorization legislation has been stymied by protracted battles over financing, Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) and labor issues.

Financing

Debate in the Senate over changes to the federal aviation financing system has been very contentious with the leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee having very different concepts on reforms. However, a fragile compromise was reached among Senate leaders during the waning days of the last Congress. We anticipate that their agreement will endure until final passage of the legislation sometime in 2009.

PFCs

Legislation in both the House and Senate varied significantly on the issue of increasing PFCs. The House proposal moved aggressively to raise the PFC cap to $7; the Senate proposal called for a pilot program allowing an unspecified number of airports to raise PFCs to $7. While differences could be worked out in conference committee, various recessionary pressures and airline service reductions could possibly impact the PFC debate in the months to come.

Labor

The air traffic controllers' contract and labor rights for various freight carriers will continue to draw partisan attention to the Reauthorization Bill. However, with a seemingly sympathetic Democratic administration and significant Democratic gains in the House and Senate, these provisions may be acceptable to the incoming Congress and new administration.

Economic Stimulus

Industry organizations such as Airports Council International - North America, American Association of Airport Executives and Airport Consultants Council have called on the new Congress to commit $600 million to $1 billion of the Economic Stimulus Package to aviation infrastructure improvements. Such an infusion of funding could help create 35,000 to 42,000 high-paying jobs at airports throughout the country.

The national recession has virtually frozen access to the bond market on which our nation's airports heavily depend to finance their capital projects. Thus, our airports, airport consulting firms and construction entities are literally reeling from the lack of work and have begun to lay off many highly skilled and productive staff members.

I am hopeful for a quick infusion of stimulus funding to provide a much-needed economic boost for our airport infrastructure in early/mid 2009. We in the aviation industry should also make a unified and concerted effort to push vigilantly toward a resolution of the aforementioned issues. I call on all aviation interests to be in contact with our national leaders to urge the passage the FAA Reauthorization Bill.

Subcategory: 
Industry Insider

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