FAA extension set for House passage

The bill requires 1,500 minimum flight hours for pilots, an increase from 250 flight hours. It also requires pilot training for adverse weather conditions, including icing and high-altitude operations. 

The measure also requires the FAA to ensure pilots are trained on stall recovery and upset recovery, and that airlines provide remedial training to pilots who need it.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, urged his colleagues during a Wednesday floor speech to put aside their differences and get a bill passed. 

“This bill is bipartisan and there’s no excuse, or reason, to block it,” Dorgan said. 

Virginia Sens. Jim Webb (D) and Mark Warner (D) are opposed to adding any additional long-distance slots at the airport because of concerns that larger planes needed to fly coast-to-coast would create more noise. 

Western lawmakers have pushed for expansion of the airport’s so-called perimeter rule of 1,250 miles. If eased, the airport could see for the first time nonstop flights to cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Phoenix.

Dorgan said 16 slots would be switched to fly outside the perimeter and that the airlines won’t change the planes used for those routes. 

“It’s fine to represent interests in your region but it’s not fine to block this bill,” he said. 

Leading transportation lawmakers had aimed to complete the bill before the August recess. The current extension expires Aug. 1. 

Overall, the FAA bill calls for the air traffic control system to switch from World War II-era radar technology to a satellite-based system by 2014 at the busiest airports, and nationwide by 2020. The new system, known as NextGen, would cost the FAA about $22 billion through 2025, while airlines would spend about $20 billion to upgrade their airplanes’ computer systems. 

With the numbers of airline passengers growing, the new air traffic system is expected in the long term to increase safety, save airlines money, reduce delays and cut down on pollution because pilots will be able to fly more direct routes.