Today the Senate failed to approve a House-passed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) extension. The Senate chose instead to shutter the agency to protect three airports with passenger ticket subsidies ranging from $1,358 to $3,720 per passenger.
"It is unbelievable that after the House passed the 21st FAA extension, the Senate departed Washington and left the FAA and many of its employees behind," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL). "In light of the nation's pending financial disaster and soaring deficits, they couldn't find a way to cut even a few million dollars by accepting this minor request to reduce outlandish subsidies."
The extension approved by the House on Wednesday, H.R. 2553, maintains current funding levels for the FAA through September 16, 2011. The bill also includes modest Essential Air Service (EAS) Program reforms to limit subsidies for service at a small number of airports. The Senate already approved elimination of these same subsides when it passed its FAA bill in February. The widely agreed to reforms would make modest cuts to EAS Program costs -- a program whose funding has increased by 300% over the last ten years, from $50 million to $200 million in FY 2010.
"The Senate agreed to all these cuts earlier this year," Mica continued, in reference to sections 420 and 421 of the Senate's multi-year FAA Reauthorization bill (S. 223). "No wonder taxpayers are fed up and angry. This doublespeak by the Senate Democrat leadership makes no sense. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Reid has chosen to furlough thousands of FAA employees over modest reforms he couldn't beat back on the Senate Floor five months ago," Mica added.
The House extension (H.R. 2553), which the Senate failed to even bring up today, would have eliminated passenger ticket subsidies at just a few airports, including three airports that are subsidized in excess of $1,000 per ticket. At Ely, Nevada, for example, every single airline ticket is underwritten $3,720 by federal taxpayers. The other two airports with service subsidized at a rate higher than $1,000 per ticket are Alamogordo/Holloman AFB, New Mexico ($1,563) and Glendive, Montana ($1,358). This provision would save $4.1 million on an annual basis. Senate section 421 would eliminate subsidies at these same three airports, and even additional airports not impacted by the House FAA extension.
H.R. 2553 would also have limited EAS eligibility to communities that are located 90 or more miles from a large or medium hub airport. This modest reform, likewise included in section 420 of the Senate's multi-year FAA reauthorization bill, could eliminate 10 EAS communities, resulting in $12.5 million in annual savings.
"It is astounding that the Senate is willing to throw the FAA into chaos in order to protect huge subsidies for a handful of passengers unwilling to drive 90 miles or less to a hub airport," said Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI). "The Essential Air Service program should not be subsidizing non-essential flights. This is Exhibit A when it comes to wasteful spending, and if the Senate backs away from its own easy reforms like this, how is it ever going to handle the hard cuts?"
FAA indicates 4,000 agency employees across the country will be furloughed, and no new airport construction projects will be funded.