Rep. LoBiondo: Act now to prevent FAA shutdown repeat

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The chairman of the House committee that handles aviation issues said Tuesday that lawmakers should get an early start on crafting the next funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to avoid another shutdown of the agency.

The House Transportation Committee has largely been focused on passing new water infrastructure and road and transit funding bills this year, but Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) said they had to keep their on the skies as well to avoid turbulence at the FAA.

“At the top of my mind is the debacle we went through a couple of years,” LoBiondo said of the 2011 shutdown of the agency during a speech to the Aero Club of Washington.

“Everybody will tell you there were reasons for the shutdown,” LoBiondo continued. “Twenty-two extensions over how many years? All the anxiety, all the reasons, all the excuses, none of which hold any water as far as I’m concerned.”

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The FAA was shut down for two weeks in August of 2011 when lawmakers could not resolve an impasse over the agency’s funding. The FAA shutdown was a precursor to a larger shutdown of the entire government in 2013 that Republicans largely took the blame for.

The bill that was eventually passed to resolve the FAA funding standoff in 2011 is now scheduled to expire in 2015.

LoBiondo said Tuesday that he was sensitive to the optics of a potential repeat.

“Yes it was terrible timing,” he said. “The authorization was coming due at a time when we were hitting the fiscal cliff and all the attention of leadership was focused on that Aug. 1 date of the fiscal and the unthinkable and impossible happened, and that was a two-week shutdown.”

But the House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman quickly added that “one of the things I’ve talked to [Rep.] Bill Shuster [R-Pa.] about extensively is this cannot ever happen again, at least not under our watch.”

Shuster has delivered similar messages about lawmakers needing to keep their eye on the FAA funding deadline, even though reauthorizations for water and surface transportation projects are looming closer.

LoBiondo told the Aero Club that the progress on the issues that have dominated the Transportation Committee’s agenda thus far in 2014 give him optimism about the prospects for avoiding a protracted fight about the FAA's funding next year.

“I think we have an opportunity here, a little bit like the Transportation Committee had with the Water Resources Development bill,” he said. “That was considered a heavier lift, for those of you who understand and pay attention to it, but it was passed in overwhelming bipartisan nature, and the Senate passed a bill and I’m confident we’re going to have a conference report to get to the president in short term.”

LoBiondo added that he would likely to see a similar result with the FAA bill well before the 2015 deadline for avoiding another shutdown of the agency.

“I’d like to see us way ahead of schedule with the FAA,” he said.