House to Vote on Contentious Aviation Legislation
23 Mar, 2016By: Tracey Schelmetic
Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act Up for Debate
Because there aren’t enough strong opinions on air travel right now.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will likely begin debating a proposed piece of legislation called the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. There are many elements to the bill, but the most critical component would remove air traffic control (ATC) from the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and put it into the hands of a federally-chartered non-profit corporation. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) hopes to bring the bill, which cleared committee on February 11th, for a vote this week so it can be passed on to the Senate before the end of February.
Despite the current popularity of government deregulation in Congress, the bill is not a slam-dunk. Congressional Democrats oppose the bill, and even some Republicans are expressing reservations: the bill, should it become law, would reduce the Congressional oversight role by taking the ATC system outside of the FAA, insulating it from the federal appropriations process, and removing some of the House Ways and Means Committee’s taxing authorities, according to The National Law Review. In addition, the Senate has yet to present a draft of its companion bill.
Ultimately, the roadblocks faced by the bill could cause some trouble for the FAA. Existing FAA funding expires on March 31st, and the AIRR Act is what would reinstate its budget, funding the agency through 2022. The delay might force Congress to pass a temporary funding bill.
In addition to wresting ATC away from FAA authority, the AIRR Act would fund some U.S. airport infrastructure improvements and eliminate the current FAA full-fare advertising rule, which requires airlines, travel agents, packagers and anyone else selling commercial plane tickets to post the total price in print and online advertising, including taxes and fees, according to Jerry Limone writing for Travel Weekly.
The proposed AIRR Act has split the travel industry into two camps. The commercial airlines’ trade group Airlines for America (A4A) is in favor of the legislation, and argues that airline tickets should be sold just like other consumer products, with the base price advertised and taxes revealed at the point of sale. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the Business Travel Coalition and the OTA trade organization Travel Tech oppose the legislation and ending the full-fare rule, stating that the measure would make prices less transparent for customers who wish to comparison shop for airfare prices.
“The traveling public deserves to have access to the transparent, all-in cost of airfare, including all taxes and fees, so they can make true comparisons and educated decisions regarding their travel choices. This provision would harm consumers by reducing, rather than promoting, all-in price transparency,” Travel Tech spokesman Phil Minardi said.
A real sticking point for the bill, however, is in the determination of Passenger Facility Charges (PFC), which airports collect directly. Under current FAA rules, the maximum PFC is $4.50 per flight segment, and the AIRR Act would preserve this cap. Opponents say the cap hasn’t been raised since 2000 and are pushing to be able to raise the PFC to $8.50 per segment. Among those calling for the higher cap are the American Association of Airport Executives and the U.S. Travel Association.
“If we really are going to solve problems in some of our largest airports, things like congestion and lack of airport competition, our airports are really going to need to accelerate investments,” said Erik Hansen, the senior director of domestic policy at U.S. Travel.