Vice President, Transportation, Infrastructure, and Supply Chain Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
November 29, 2023
Congressional gridlock is currently forcing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to spend more time and energy on simply keeping the lights on instead of the work needed to successfully complete its mission. This dysfunction creates a safety risk by interrupting efforts by the broader aviation community to improve safety and making it extremely difficult for the FAA to implement long-term planning and execution critical for safety activities.
By the Numbers:
- There were 23 short-term extensions to FAA’s authorizing legislation between 2007 and 2012, including a two-week lapse in 2011.
- In 2013, the FAA shutdown for 16 days due to an impasse in Congressional budget negotiations.
- In late 2018 and 2019, the agency was caught up in a partial government shutdown for 35 days, the longest in our nation’s history.
- Most recently, the FAA—and the rest of the Federal government—barely avoided a shutdown on September 30 and is operating under a continuing resolution that will expire on December 31, 2023.
This stop-and-start process by Congress has real consequences. It interrupts the hiring and training of air traffic controllers. It also slows the implementation of key programs that improve safety, reduce flight delays, replace outdated technology at our nation’s airports and air traffic control systems, and modernize our airports runways and terminals.
To emphasize the importance of why Congress must finish FAA reauthorization, look no further than the recommendations recently made by an independent review team of nationally recognized aviation safety leaders.
These recommendations are based on a comprehensive review of our nation’s air traffic system following a string of “close call” incidents during takeoffs and landings that occurred in recent months at multiple airports across the country.
The review team made numerous recommendations, including a pointed warning that congressional dysfunction is increasingly undermining the “Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ability to effectively perform its mission.”
In a world where TSA recently recorded the busiest day in history for U.S. airports, this observation should worry the American public and encourage Congressional lawmakers to complete work on a much-needed long-term FAA reauthorization bill.
Thankfully, Congress has a real opportunity to correct many of the issues identified in the review team’s report. Both the House and Senate have FAA reauthorization bills that would:
- Improve safety oversight: Both bills would strengthen the authority and independence of the Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service, which provides oversight of FAA’s air traffic services and informs agency leadership of aviation safety needs.
- Reinforce data-driven safety culture: Both bills would support the evolution of programs that use data and collaboration to identify and mitigate safety risks in the National Airspace System (NAS), and allow the agency to target its limited resources towards the areas in the most need.
- Address staffing challenges: Both bills would require the FAA to develop a defensible, flexible, and predictive air traffic controller staffing model that determines system and individual facility needs, and to increase the hiring and training of air traffic controllers and technicians.
- Invest in facilities, equipment, and technology: Both bills would provide funding for the modernization and maintenance of NAS infrastructure and the implementation of NextGen programs, which use technology to maximize safety and efficiency in the NAS.
But these important wins for safety—and our nation’s workers and nation’s air space— could be lost if Congress continues to disagree.
Safety is a shared responsibility—including airplane manufacturers, passenger airlines, air traffic controllers, airport operators, pilots, mechanics, federal regulators, and passengers. When one of these parties fails to do their part, it hurts the efforts of everyone else.
Congressional lawmakers must decide how to resolve the remaining issues currently holding up a new FAA reauthorization package that will provide significant improvements to safety.
The Chamber urges Congress to work with the business community and act swiftly and responsibly to complete work on a new FAA reauthorization that ensures the safety of our nation’s air space. The flying public and the aviation community deserve nothing less.
About the authors
John Drake is responsible for representing the business community on transportation, infrastructure, and supply chain issues before Congress, the administration, the media, the business community, and other stakeholders.