By Libby Casey
The U-S Senate has approved a $34-Billion bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. It took years to hammer out a deal, but in the end had strong bipartisan support and the votes of both Alaskan Senators, passing 87 to 8. Conservative Republicans voted against it.
It doesn’t become law – first the House has to pass its version of an F-A-A bill… then the two have to be worked-out.
The long-time sticking point in the Senate over increasing the number of flights at the federally owned D-C Airport ‘Ronald Reagan/Washington National’ was finally resolved. The Senate agreed to more flights to western states…. Which could mean more Alaska Airlines flights between the West Coast and DC.
The F-A-A bill includes more than $8-Billion for an Airport Improvement Program, and speeds-up deployment of the “Next-Gen” system, which aims to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system with satellite trackers. It includes a Passenger Bill of Rights that limits the amount of time a plane can keep passengers sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off.
It includes some Alaska-specific provisions: It would allow some limited transportation of medical oxygen cylinders on Alaskan aircraft, something the delegation is pushing for. It would also let the University of Alaska Fairbanks use more unmanned aerial systems in the Arctic for research.
It contains 200 million dollars nationally for the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flights to rural communities, including 44 in Alaska. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain tried to gut its funding through an amendment, but failed.
And the bill has language in it to complete land transactions to let the widening of Anchorage’s 5th Avenue go forward.
Senator Lisa Murkowski successfully inserted an amendment that calls for aircraft emergency locator transmitters to be properly mounted and maintained. Murkowski proposed it because the E-L-T was dislodged and didn’t work in the fatal plane crash of former Senator Ted Stevens last August.
The F-A-A bill also includes an amendment backed by Senator Mark Begich and conservative Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma that deals with so-called orphaned earmarks. It sends back to the treasury earmarks that have sat unused for a decade.
The F-A-A bill would be paid for mostly by ticket, fuel, and other taxes.