Today's News / Transportation Safety

Does Congressional stalemate mean danger in the sky?

August 3, 2011
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 Congress’ failure to pass a Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) bill before going on vacation has put 74,000 aviation-related jobs in limbo, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood insists that air travel is still safe.

 Nearly 4,000 FAA personnel have been furloughed and 70,000 construction workers sent home from airport modernization projects around the country. “If Congress doesn't act until reconvening after Labor Day, these families will have endured nearly 50 days without income,” said LaHood, in the FAA’s blog.

“We are fortunate that our air traffic controllers are still on the job, and flying is safe. We are fortunate that many airport inspectors have volunteered not only to work without pay, but to rack up expenses on their credit cards while they do their jobs. We are fortunate that we started from the position of having the best aviation system in the world. But, this is no way to run that system.”

President Obama called congressional failure to pass the legislation "another Washington-inflicted wound on America."

In a statement, the FAA insisted that “the safety of the flying public will not be compromised.”

The bill – the victim of partisan politics -- would have given the FAA the authority necessary to continue various operations, including critical airport modernization projects around the company. At issue: provisions that would hamper unions in efforts to organize airline employees and the elimination of subsidies to airlines in rural areas.

The $16 million a year that would be saved by ending the subsidy is dwarfed by the $33 million in uncollected ticket-tax revenue being lost each day the stalemate continues. The FAA estimates that by September 7, when lawmakers roll back into town and resume legislative business, the lost revenue tally will be up to $1.3 billion – at a time when the nation is grappling with an enormous budget deficit .

It is unclear whether or not the taxes can be collected retroactively.

In the meantime, during prime construction season, dozens of “stop work orders” have been issued for major projects designed to build and modernize control towers and other aviation infrastructure features. The FAA said that stopping work on these projects could signifantly increase the ultimate costs of construction for taxpayers.

“Unless Congress acts quickly, more work on projects critical to our nation’s aviation system will come to a halt. Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification.  The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.

 

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