The US Senate fails to pass an overdue investment bill for the nation's air traffic system

The Senate's failure to pass a full four-year reauthorisation package for the FAA leaves ­unanswered major questions about funding at the agency, which is effectively in limbo.

The Senate refused in May to take up the FAA reauthorisation bill after a debate over pension provisions, which would have compelled airlines to make significant payments, and unrelated highway funding provisions. That means the FAA, which has been managed since September by acting administrator Bobby Sturgell while his nomination has been delayed by the Senate, must now run on a budget that is renewed every few months by the Congress.

The FAA is now forced to run without the ability to award major contracts and without long-term funding for a planned new generation of air traffic control technology. The FAA has been funded since October by a series of stopgap measures and the ­current temporary funding measure expires at the end of June.

Without the full four-year bill the FAA is also running without added oversight of air carriers and without new rules on the "revolving door" of employment of FAA safety inspectors by the carriers they had inspected. But perhaps most importantly, it leaves the FAA relationship with its ­National Air Traffic Controllers Association workforce festering, plagued by accusations of fatigue and understaffing while attrition remains a real concern.

Air Transport Association chief Jim May says fixing its relationship with controllers is one of the most important things the FAA could do to remedy summer travel delays. But the union continues to jump on FAA blunders such as the agency's admission that it had mischaracterised operational errors at towers. "The aviation system is cracking under the weight of the FAA's many recent and highly publicised management failures," says NATCA president Patrick Forrey.

The Senate, meanwhile, has held back Sturgell's nomination because some Senators claim the FAA is not doing enough to ­improve runway safety.

Source: Airline Business