FAA bill passed by Congress despite EU objections

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Uncertainty surrounds the future of bilateral aviation agreements between the European Union and the USA, after Congress passed a bill that Europe had warned would "raise barriers in the transatlantic aviation market".

On 21 May, the draft FAA Reauthorisation Act of 2009 passed the house by a vote of 277 to 136 and was sent to the senate. The draft legislation requires the US Federal Aviation Administration to inspect Part 145-certificated foreign repair stations at least twice a year and mandates drug and alcohol testing for individuals working on US aircraft.

In an open letter to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the EU's US ambassador John Bruton had asserted that these inspection requirements contradicted the EU-US Aviation Safety Agreement signed in June 2008 and would "impede its implementation".

There was a suggestion of retaliatory action when Bruton warned that the non-entry into force of the safety agreement would require 1,237 facilities in the USA to be inspected by the European Aviation Safety Agency, imposing costs of $35 million a year on US industry.

Congressman James Oberstar, who sponsored the bill, has defended the relevant provision, saying it "will simply ensure that foreign entities conducting repair work on US aircraft adhere to US safety standards and regulations", adding: "I welcome the same scrutiny by the EU of US repair stations."

Bruton's objections extend beyond the bill's inspection requirements. He believes that implementation of the open-skies agreement of March 2008 is put at risk by a provision that asserts US control of "all matters pertaining to the business and structure" of US carriers. Bruton's letter to LaHood had cautioned that this provision "would dangerously impair the ability to enter into meaningful second-stage negotiations". Open skies talks are scheduled for 24-26 June.

The US Senate is not due to vote on the draft legislation until August.