The lights will stay on at the FAA, at least for now. Last night, the Senate passed the House bill extending authorization for FAA funding through March 8, 2024. The stop-gap measure had been held up since late last week by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), over unrelated concerns about funding for the war in Ukraine. He released his hold last night, allowing the Senate to proceed to approve the bill by unanimous consent. If the measure had failed, funding for the FAA would have run out on December 31, in the midst of the busiest travel time of the year.
The legislation is a “clean” extension of FAA funding, and does nothing to address any of the substantive issues at play in the FAA reauthorization debate. Those issues – including the 1,500 hour pilot training rule and the age 65 retirement rule – still need to be ironed out. The Senate has yet to act on the House-passed FAA reauthorization bill, which was approved on July 20, 2023. The Senate’s own reauthorization bill is still pending in the Commerce Committee, and there has been no movement since the summer.
While there is broad recognition of the importance of passing a long-term reauthorization bill, the way forward is not clear, and the possibility exists that further short-term extensions will be needed. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has even suggested that, in light of the lack of progress to date, “we’re getting to the point we’ll be forced to extend the FAA’s authority until 2025.”
One can only hope that when the members return to Washington after the holidays, all parties will recognize the critical importance of securing stable, long-term funding for the nation’s aviation system. But with budget and foreign policy issues likely to consume lawmakers’ attention early in the new year, don’t be surprised if Congress “kicks the can down the road” once again when March 8 rolls around.