No Delay on Congressional Response to FAA Furloughs

Days after a series of furloughs kicked in, causing long lines at airports nationwide, both the Senate and House passed a bill easing pressure on air-traffic controllers affected by the cuts. Translation: Those long lines should go away soon.

First, the furloughs. Then, the delays. And now, in the span of less than a week, a deal to get everything back to normal.

As Associations Now reported earlier this week, a set of furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) affected 47,000 workers, forcing them to take off one day of work for every 10. Roughly one-third of affected employees manned air traffic control towers, leading to a decline in available workers to ensure the safety and timeliness of flights.

While this legislation averts the short-term crisis, we are concerned with provisions in the bill that allow airport infrastructure funds to be transferred to air traffic control services.

As a result, when the delays hit—in some cases, flight delays of more than three hours—Congress acted fast to solve the issue. On Thursday, the Senate approved a bill allowing $400 million from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program to be used to fund the air traffic control program. Friday morning, the House followed suit, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign shortly.

The situation ends a short-term crisis around FAA furloughs, but associations and members of Congress remain concerned about the long-term impacts.

Association reaction

On Friday, the U.S. Travel Association, which had strongly spoken out against the FAA furloughs, praised the move, saying “there is simply too much at stake to let this problem go unaddressed,” but warned that the source of the funding for air-traffic controllers could make the solution something of a Pyrrhic victory.

“While this legislation averts the short-term crisis,” the group said in a statement, “we are concerned with provisions in the bill that allow airport infrastructure funds to be transferred to air traffic control services.”

The group suggested the Department of Transportation avoid cuts to infrastructure to fund air traffic controller costs.

Airlines for America also praised the decision, calling it “a bipartisan, common-sense approach to restore efficiency to our nation’s skies.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Contract Tower Association’s executive director, Spencer Dickerson, noted that his association would continue to lobby against an already delayed plan to close a number of air traffic control towers later this year.

“We’re going to work with the FAA to work on a solution here that will keep these towers open, so they will provide the safety benefits that control towers provide the traveling public,” he told USA Today.

Beyond the FAA Furloughs

While the measure passed, many Democratic members of Congress argued that the bill is a selective solution to a much larger problem: the wide cuts of sequestration, which affect walks of life far beyond the travel industry and represented by many associations.

Democrats had originally pushed to roll back $85 billion in federal cuts caused by sequestration but could not muster the necessary support.

“We ought not to be mitigating the sequester’s effect on just one segment, when children, the sick, our military and many other groups who will be impacted by this irresponsible policy are left unhelped,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), whose comments were echoed by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Carney claimed the president “believes this is a band-aid covering a massive wound to the economy.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), meanwhile, treated the vote as a victory for the Republican Party’s approach to targeted fixes, noting that Democrats appeared to come around to Republicans’ position on the matter. “By last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted ‘cut this, not that’ approach,” he wrote.

(Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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