FAA Reauthorization Expires Next Week: Now What?

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The extension of the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2012 runs out at the end of next week, but Congress has not been able to come up with a replacement.

The drama began last spring, as the House Transportation committee, led by Rep. Shuster, introduced the AIRR Act – a comprehensive FAA Reauthorization package including provisions for commercial drone regulation that called for sweeping changes in the agency, including the privatization of Air Traffic Control.  The AIRR Act died on the floor, however, as politicians were unable to get close to agreement on many of the Act’s controversial points.  And without a workable replacement in sight, Congress was forced to pass yet another patch, extending FAA Reauthorization to July.

In April, after much negotiation, the Senate was able to pass a more modest proposal for FAA Reauthorization.  While this package also had major provisions for the drone industry, it did not address some of the AIRR Act’s more aggressive proposals, including privatization.  But Shuster and other House members declined to adopt the proposal, saying that they would continue to work towards passage of the AIRR Act.

The result is that Senate and House negotiators are back to hammering out the details of a deal – not to actually pass an FAA Reauthorization package, but to extend the extension through December 2017.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, the lead Senate negotiator, says that he is optimistic that a short-term funding extension will not be necessary, The Morning Consult reports.

“I think it’s going to be the end of [calendar year 2017], which again, it’s not as long as we would have liked, but it sure as heck beats a short-term extension. And it will incorporate a lot of what will be permanent policy,” Thune told reporters Tuesday.

The exact details haven’t been revealed; and won’t be until Shuster – lead House negotiator – and Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson come to agreement.  “We had one or two final items that were being negotiated,” Thune said. “Mainly there was a Nelson-Shuster discussion going on about a couple provisions that each of them wanted in there, and I think once that gets settled, then I think we ought to be able to wrap it up.”

Shuster’s office hasn’t commented on the proposal.  The privatization of Air Traffic Control, however, is not included; despite having the backing of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and many major airlines.

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