Congress poised to clear another FAA extension

Congress moved new safety requirements for pilots under separate legislation during the summer. 

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.

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

Lawmakers also are still in negotiations over whether to raise the passenger facility charge from $4.50 to $7. The House bill raises the fee, whereas the Senate bill holds it at the current level.

A union issue with FedEx and UPS is still being worked out. The House's FAA bill shifts FedEx ground operations jurisdiction for labor relations from the Railway Labor Act to the National Labor Relations Act. 

The change would put FedEx and UPS under the labor union same rules, allowing FedEx ground employees to organize locally. Under current law, FedEx organizes nationally. FedEx has called it a “bailout” for UPS. 

The Senate passed a two-year, $34.5 billion measure in March, while the House passed a $70 billion bill that covers 2009-2012 last year. 

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. 

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