A bill passed by the House on Thursday would increase funding for the Federal Aviation Administration to hire air traffic controllers and raise the airline pilots’ required retirement age.
The bill would extend FAA initiatives for the following five years in an effort to enhance air travel, which has been beset by cancellations and delays during peak periods.
On a 351-69, generally bipartisan vote, it was approved. Prior to the deadline for action on October 1st, the Senate is drafting its version of the bill. By then, the two chambers will either have to work out their differences or accept a brief extension of the current FAA programs.
After a series of votes on difficult matters, the House approved the bill. A clause that would have permitted more flight simulator hours to be counted toward the 1,500-hour in-flight requirement to become an airline pilot was removed by lawmakers by a vote of 243 to 139.
Smaller airlines advocated for the change, arguing that it would alleviate the pilot shortage that is already forcing service to smaller communities to be cut off.
However, critics of the proposal, including pilot unions, claimed it would compromise safety. Despite objections from pilot associations, a clause that would have increased the obligatory retirement age for airline pilots from 65 to 67 was kept in place.
An initiative to increase the number of long-haul flights at Reagan National Airport was rejected by the House.
Together with lawmakers from communities eager to acquire nonstop service to the airport close to central Washington, Delta Air Lines campaigned for the increase.
The maximum distance for flights to and from the airport is typically 1,250 miles. According to opponents, the airport is already overcrowded, and adding more aircraft will only cause delays.
The expansion of flights at National was opposed by United Airlines, which has a sizable operation at the farther-off Dulles Airport. The Senate’s version of the aviation bill, which would allow more than $100 billion in expenditures, is running behind schedule.
The controversy surrounding pilot training last month prevented a committee vote.
Numerous sections in the House version of the bill will impact passengers on airplanes, including one that would repeal a 2011 Transportation Department rule mandating airlines to advertise ticket prices in full.
Instead, airlines might include a link to the ticket’s total cost. Consumer advocacy groups oppose the reduction, and on Monday the White House joined them in arguing that full-fare advertising is necessary to aid consumers in their comparison-shopping for tickets.
Consumer organizations are hoping that more of the provisions they want will be included in the Senate plan.
They are unimpressed with the House bill, which resulted from a deal between Washington Democrat Rick Larsen and Missouri Republican Sam Graves, the chairman of the transportation committee.
In the words of Graves, the legislation “improves the safety of our system, our airport infrastructure, and the quality of service for passengers.” Numerous industry organizations and airlines commended the House for passing the FAA measure.
“This bill makes important progress that will enable the FAA to hire and train more controllers, to improve air traffic control technology, and to strengthen the pipeline of trained workers, including pilots and aviation maintenance technicians,” stated American Airlines in a statement following the vote.