The House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday to extend Federal Aviation Administration operations. The House and Senate must agree on a final version of the legislation to avoid disruptions which could occur if the FAA's authority to operate is allowed to expire Friday, July 22.
One source of contention between the House and Senate is a provision in the House bill advocated by Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI). The provision could save up to $20 million by reducing subsidies which support commercial airline service to small airports under the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
Petri contends that the government should not be providing "essential" service to airports which are within 90 miles of a large or medium hub airport.
"In the case of one airport under the current program, we are paying a per passenger subsidy of $851 and the nearest hub airport is 82 miles away - that's $10 per mile," Petri said.
A second provision caps the subsidies for each passenger at $1,000.
"During this economically difficult time, it is not possible to justify using taxpayer dollars to pay for a subsidy of $1,000 per passenger at an EAS airport. And subsidies can frequently exceed that amount," Petri said.
With Congress rushing to beat the FAA's Friday deadline, opposition in the Senate threatens to scuttle Petri's reform - a result that Petri says leaves him deeply concerned about the nation's finances.
"As Congress tries to find a way forward to address deficit and long-term debt issues, if we can't put an end to these extravagant subsidies, then we will never be able to rein in spending where really hard decisions are necessary," he said.