Shuster: Time to discuss next FAA bill already

The current funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is not scheduled to expire until 2015, but the chairman of the House Transportation Committee said Wednesday that it was already time to begin working on the next reauthorization.

In a speech to the International Aviation Club, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said lawmakers had to begin working on a new round of FAA funding now to avoid a repeat of the 22 short-term extensions that had to be passed for the agency before its 2012 appropriation bill was approved.

"To pass a new reauthorization that will keep us competitive, we have to begin laying the groundwork now," Shuster said. "We shouldn’t settle for just another reauthorization of programs, or for making adjustments at the margins of the system. We may have the world’s best aviation system for the moment, but that title comes with no guarantee. We have an obligation to improve our system any way we can, with bold, innovative ideas.”

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Shuster told his audience that "the time to ask questions is now," a full two years before the scheduled expiration of the current $63 billion aviation funding bill.

"Our global competitors are closing the gap quickly," he said.

"For example, air carriers in the Middle East and China are emerging as top carriers in terms of revenue and capacity," Shuster continued. "In these regions, governments are strategically using airlines to drive economic growth — and they’re not necessarily concerned about turning a profit. In some cases the government itself owns and operates the airlines, and those carriers benefit from low fees and taxes, low labor costs, and relaxed labor regulations."

Shuster added: "We don’t often like to admit it, but we don’t have all the answers here in the United States.

"There are aspects of other nations’ aviation systems that are more successful, innovative, and efficient than ours," he said. "What can we learn from others that could help propel U.S. aviation toward the future?"

Shuster identified one area where he was not willing to compromise, however — allowing passengers to make cellphone calls during flights.

"No cell phones on planes — that’s one discussion that can begin and end right now," he said.

Shuster has introduced a bill to ban airlines from allowing passengers to make cellphone calls as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering lifting its ban.

Shuster has said that allowing airline passengers to make calls would inconvenience other travelers, but the FCC has said that it is only considering whether phone calls made in the air would impact telephone systems on the ground.

The FCC's consideration of lifting the cellphone ban follows a recent decision by the FAA to begin allowing passengers to use portable electronic devices during the entire length of flights.