Begich Says FAA Shutdown Will Negatively Impact Alaska
July 22, 2011
The last comprehensive authorization of the FAA expired in 2007. Congress has passed 20 routine short-term extensions of the FAA’s funding authority while trying to reach agreement on a multi-year reauthorization. The FAA bill sets aviation policies and authorizes funding for things like air traffic controllers, building runways, and the “NextGen” modernization of the nation’s air traffic control system from radar to a more accurate satellite tracking system.
“The House is essentially playing chicken with one of the most important agencies of the federal government,” Begich said. “This is irresponsible to say the least and poses public safety risks at its worst.”
While the most basic safety functions of the FAA, such as Air Traffic Control will continue; a partial shutdown could have dramatic negative impacts on states like Alaska. The FAA would furlough more than 4,000 employees and would shut down Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. The FAA’s inability to issue grants would mean many airports cannot take advantage of the 2011 construction season.
This equates to roughly 80 furloughed personnel in Alaska and the loss of nearly $7 million for various airport improvement and safety projects. Begich further urged the House to take immediate action as an extended partial shutdown could mean the loss of additional construction jobs as contracts will not be let and the Alaska construction season is already short.
A Senate bill enjoyed widespread support and passed 87-8 in February. The House passed its own version of FAA reauthorization in April, but has not appointed conferees to negotiate the final legislation. While the Senate has waited for the House to appoint conferees, the staffs of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee have worked diligently to reconcile the differences between the two respective versions of the bill. Only a small handful of issues remain unresolved.
Instead of agreeing to a “clean” extension, free from contentious policy changes and ensuring the continuity of FAA operations, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica made a surprising move just days before the current extension is set to expire. Mica introduced an extension with a controversial policy rider which would eliminate EAS in certain communities in the Lower 48. While the policy rider would not eliminate service in Alaska, a piecemeal attack on the program may threaten the viability of EAS in Alaska in the future. The inclusion of the controversial EAS proposal appears to be in retaliation for the Senate’s refusal to accept a contentious House provision which would greatly curtail workers rights and has no relevance to the underlying aviation safety bill.
“Alaskans know how vital Essential Air Service (EAS) is to ensuring small communities have a minimal amount of scheduled air service.” Begich said. “While I agree some modifications do need to be made to the EAS program, it is not fair to offer a take-it-or-leave-it extension which makes non-negotiated changes negatively impacting rural communities.”
During a shutdown, the FAA will continue to operate essential services of air traffic control and safety personnel. However, without a new extension and limited resources the FAA anticipates it would have to draw down air traffic support services by mid-August.
“Aviation is vital to our way of life, in Alaska.” Begich said. “It is incomprehensible the actions of the House leadership would potentially put the safety of pilots and the flying public in Alaska and across the country at risk during the busiest season for aviation.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) – a fellow member and Chair of the U.S. Senate Essential Air Service Caucus – in sending a letter to their Senate colleagues this morning urging support for a clean extension of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization, otherwise set to expire today.
“For the past several months I have worked with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to preserve the Essential Air Service Program,” Murkowski said. “We are urging our colleagues to join us in supporting a clean extension of the FAA bill that will provide the funding required to serve our rural communities nationwide – which makes up 20% of America’s population and even more of the 49th state, where many places simply can’t be reached by road and the importance of Alaskan air service cannot be overstated.
“If the current extension was allowed to expire we could lose millions of dollars in airport improvements, grants for safety and navigational maintenance and up to 79 Alaskans could be furloughed or laid off. It is critical that Congress comes together to pass a long term authorization for the FAA.”
The Senators are urging their colleagues to support S. 1387, introduced by Baucus and Transportation Committee Chairman Senator Jay John Rockefeller of West Virginia, which would allow FAA to continue operating uninterrupted while members continue to work toward a long-term reauthorization. A competing proposal passed by the House would abruptly cut funding for Essential Air Service without the opportunity for public comment.
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