Senate passes bill to reauthorize FAA and improve aviation

The Senate on Thursday passed legislation to reauthorize federal airline programs for the next five years and put new safety measures and consumer protections for travelers at a time of intense uncertainty and disruption in the air travel system.

Bill, which still needs final approval in the House before becoming law, would provide more than $105 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration and more than $738 million to the National Transportation Safety Board for airport modernization, technology programs and security. This includes hiring and training air traffic controllers, codifying airlines’ refund obligations to passengers, ensuring free family seats and strengthening protections for passengers with disabilities.

“Aviation safety has been a priority for millions of Americans lately, and this FAA bill is the best thing Congress can do to give Americans the peace of mind they deserve,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. Senate on Thursday evening.

It passed on a bipartisan vote of 88 to 4, one day before the current law was set to expire. The Senate unanimously approved a short-term extension, allowing time for the House to take up and hash out a long-term package next week, which will be sent to President Biden.

The legislation is a bipartisan compromise negotiated for months by Senate and House committees with jurisdiction over the FAA after Congress approved several short-term extensions of the agency when lawmakers failed to meet an earlier deadline. The House passed its version of the bill nearly a year ago by a vote of 351 to 69.

Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, chairwoman of the Commerce Committee, celebrated on the floor after passing the bill’s provisions on consumer protections, aviation safety, air traffic controllers, airport infrastructure and workforce development.

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“This is a huge moment for aviation,” Ms Cantwell said. “We have security issues and concerns that require major investment. This legislation invests in safety standards, protecting consumers and developing a workforce and technology that will allow America to be the gold standard in aviation.”

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, said: “This legislation is a strong, bipartisan, bicameral bill that contains hundreds of priorities for Republican and Democratic senators and representatives. This bill gives the FAA the safety tools it needs at a critical time.

As one of the few remaining bills considered a must-pass item this year, the FAA package, which has sparked several regional controversies, has become a magnet. Dozens of corrections And policy riders threatened to delay it in the Senate.

With the legislation threatening to stall, the House on Wednesday approved a one-week extension to the FAA before leaving Washington for the weekend. The Senate followed suit on Thursday, deflecting protracted disputes that would have blocked the initiative and resulted in a summary defeat for the FAA.

The debate comes at a time of intense uncertainty about the aviation system, which has seen recent episodes of deadly collisions on runways, plane crashes and thousands of flight delays and cancellations.

It was unclear whether the Senate could pass the legislation and the extension throughout Thursday, as senators demanded a vote on the amendments or threatened to block quick passage. No amendments were ultimately brought to a vote.

The most intense regional fight was over a provision in the bill Add five round-trip long-haul flights Outside Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington. Proponents, including Delta Air Lines, have said they want to expand access to the nation’s capital and increase competition.

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proposal Legislators representing the area were outraged, argued that the airport maintains the busiest runway in the country and cannot support the additional flights. Senators Tim Kaine and Virginia’s Mark Warner and Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, all Democrats; filed an amendment To strike new planes.

Mr. Cain and Mr. Warner threatened to suspend the bill if they did not vote. But Mr. Cruz blocked an attempt to introduce a compromise amendment that would have given the transportation secretary the final say on new flights, considering any effects on delays and passenger safety.

“The Senate has abdicated its responsibility to protect the safety of the 25 million people who fly through DCA each year,” said Mr. Cain and Mr. Warner said in a statement. “Some of our colleagues were too afraid to call in the experts. They don’t want to show the American people that they care more about some lawmakers’ desire for direct flights than they do about the safety and comfort of the traveling public. It’s shameful and embarrassing.”

Only senators from Virginia and Maryland voted against the bill.

Another group of senators failed to vote to stop the Transportation Security Administration’s expansion of facial recognition technology at airports and restrict it where it is in use.

Senators also proposed adding several unrelated bills, including One It will provide compensation to people affected by the country’s nuclear weapons program. Act for full funding Replacement of the collapsed Francis Key Scott Bridge in Baltimore, and a Credit card competition size. Senators Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, urged a vote on the bill to protect minors online Thursday. None of them made it into the final product.

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