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House panel aims to finish must-pass aviation bill by August

House panel aims to finish must-pass aviation bill by August
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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is aiming to wrap up work on a must-pass aviation bill by the August recess, according to a top panel aide.

Holly E. Woodruff Lyons, deputy general counsel for the committee and staff director of the aviation subcommittee, said Tuesday that the goal is to get legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration “off the floor by August.”

The FAA’s legal authority expires at the end of September, which would give the House and Senate less than two months to hammer out a final product.

The House Transportation panel has held several hearings on the topic and is expected to take the lead on legislation.

The FAA reauthorization could also include new consumer protections for travelers. Airlines' customer service policies have come under a microscope since a passenger was dragged off a United Airlines flight earlier this month.

The House Transportation panel is planning on holding a hearing on the issue, while a number of lawmakers are crafting bills targeting the common practice of overbooking flights and bumping passengers.

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Last year, Congress ended up passing a short-term patch after a long-term proposal to reauthorize the FAA stalled in the House.

That legislation contained a contentious plan to separate air traffic control from the federal government and hand it over to a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization, which faced opposition from Democrats and GOP appropriators and tax-writers.

But this year, proponents of the spin-off idea have a powerful new ally: President Trump. He called for a similar plan in his budget proposal last month as a way to modernize the country’s air traffic control system and save taxpayer money.

The House FAA bill from last year is expected to serve as the model for this year’s yet-to-be-unveiled proposal, though Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is open to making adjustments.

“The framework is the AIRR Act,” Woodruff Lyons said during a Global Business Travel Association conference on Capitol Hill. “But everything is open to change.”

She also painted a picture of what the spin-off plan would like look. The model would put an independent nonprofit in charge of air traffic control operations, though the FAA would till maintain safety oversight and regulate the national airspace.

The corporation would also have a board appointed by users of the system, would raise money through user fees and the private sector and would not receive appropriations from the federal government, Woodruff Lyons said.

Supports of the model say that the FAA has struggled to implement a modernization program called NextGen, and believe a corporation would deliver cheaper and faster results.

“We haven’t seen the results from NextGen,” Woodruff Lyons said. “I’ve sat through hearing after hearing and briefing after briefing where promises were made. Perhaps they over promised, but they certainly under-delivered.”