A $410-billion appropriations bill signed today by President Obama sends a strong signal to the FAA to focus on air-traffic controller staffing and training, and on reporting about it in a timely manner.
The measure orders FAA to report to the US Congress its controller workforce plans by 31 March - and reduces the total appropriations by $100,000 for each day that the report is late.
Although the bill requires a number of other FAA reports, this is the only one in this measure that has such a significant fine, and while $100,000 may be relatively insignificant to a $9 billion total for FAA operations, it is a signal of the importance the government places on controller staffing.
Among the reports required is one on ATOS, the FAA's Air Transportation Oversight System, which has been at center of controversies about maintenance practices at Southwest and at American airlines. The report, due in six months, will have to detail the agency's analysis of ATOS data sent from its field offices.
This measure, which funds the FAA, the DOT and other federal agencies through the end of the present fiscal year, at the end of September, gives the FAA larger amounts than earlier Bush administration spending bills, but still does not address the underlying question of a long-term reauthorization for the FAA.
The agency has been funded by continuing short-term resolutions since 2007 when its long-time reauthorization covering fiscal 2008-2011 expired. The latest funding extension expires at the end of March, and even though both House and the Senate committees are working on bills, it is unlikely that they will be finished with their legislation before the second half of the year.