Today, the House is expected to vote on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4), introduced late last week by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and modified by three manager’s amendments Tuesday night. This bill authorizes FAA programs through fiscal year 2023 to the tune of $110 billion, and increases spending, regulation at the request of certain industry interests, and trade barriers.
The proposal is a far cry from the comprehensive overhaul of FAA offered in last year’s reauthorization known as the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. That bill would have turned the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system into a standalone, non-profit corporation and made substantial improvements over America’s aviation system, which has fallen behind foreign counterparts due to excessive government regulation and a broken aviation finance system. The AIRR Act never received floor consideration due to political pressure from certain special interests.
Last year’s shortcomings should not give Congress license to enact bad policy this year. In addition to maintaining the status quo, the legislation now under consideration actually moves aviation policy in the wrong direction by 1) increasing spending, 2) burdening the overall industry with more regulations while preempting state rights at the behest of special interests, and 3) raising additional aviation trade barriers.
On spending, the latest manager’s amendment to H.R. 4 codifies omnibus non-defense spending levels by increasing funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) by $5.3 billion over the next five years, assuming an extension of the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. In his Heritage Foundation report 2018 FAA Reauthorization: Opportunities to Improve Federal Aviation Policy, Policy Analyst in Transportation and Infrastructure Michael Sargent highlights this issue:
This exceeds the additional funds provided in the recent omnibus package, which included a one-time appropriation of $1 billion to be expended by 2020. More additional spending is allocated to other FAA budget accounts and the wasteful Essential Air Service program. These spending increases eschew reform and lock in higher federal funding for unnecessary federal programs in perpetuity.
The proposed bill also increases regulation at the expense of state and local governments. For example, Section 332 of the bill text directs the Secretary to issue a final rule applying federal air carrier certification to drones. As Heritage Foundation policy analysts John-Michael Seibler and Jason Snead in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies note, such a step:
Would erode federalism and property rights, and preempt states and localities seeking to impose reasonable restrictions on how drones operate mere feet above their own communities . . . [and] bar state and local governments from exercising core components of their sovereign power to regulate land use and exercise zoning authority, among other functions that the Founders entrusted to states.
Various other sections increase federal micromanagement of the U.S. airline industry, harkening back to the pre-deregulation era. Sargent writes:
These include federal mandates regarding flight attendant duty periods (Section 314), involuntary denied boarding practices (Section 406), procedures regarding disruptive events (Section 409), a sweeping list of “passenger rights” (Section 414), and much of the rest of Title IV. These mandates will inevitably increase the cost of air travel for consumers and limit airlines’ ability to craft their own business models.
Finally, the proposal expands aviation protectionism to the detriment of consumer choice. In his report Sargent notes:
Section 530 of the bill contains multiple provisions that would erect further barriers for foreign air carriers (those from European countries) seeking to provide U.S. consumers with services. Not only does this needlessly hurt consumers and stifle competition, but the provision has the potential to jeopardize the nation’s numerous Open Skies agreements with other countries, which could cause great harm to global aviation operations.
Last year, President Trump “propos[ed] to take American air travel into the future, finally.” Not only were those reforms discarded, the current proposal moves the wrong direction by increasing federal spending and federal regulation. Lawmakers should not sign off on a six-year reauthorization of bad policy due to pressure from a few well-connected tech companies. Sargent concludes:
Congress should not squander its chance to make long-lasting improvements to federal aviation policy. While H.R. 4 contains several provisions that improve upon current law, it largely excludes the structural reforms that are needed for the FAA, and increases ham-handed federal involvement in the industry through spending increases and additional regulatory encroachments. Going forward, Congress should instead adopt a broad reform agenda based on enabling market forces to continue to improve the aviation industry for the 21st century.