Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Urges Swift Action by Congress on FAA Bill

WASHINGTON – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt called on Congress today to pass a clean extension of the FAA’s authorization in order to avoid airport project construction delays and employee furloughs. The current FAA reauthorization expires at midnight this Friday, July 22, 2011. LaHood and Babbitt said they oppose the House bill because it includes controversial provisions that needlessly threaten critical FAA programs and jeopardize thousands of public and private sector jobs.

“Congress needs to stop playing games, work out its differences, and pass a clean FAA bill immediately. There is no excuse for not getting this done,” said Secretary LaHood. “Important programs and construction projects are at stake. This stalemate must be resolved.”

Secretary LaHood also said, “I want to reassure the flying public that, during this period, safety will not be compromised.”

“We are going to be forced to furlough valuable FAA employees unless this situation is resolved quickly,” said FAA Administrator Babbitt. “These employees do everything from getting money out the door for airport construction projects, to airport safety planning and NextGen research. We need them at work.”

If Congress does not extend the FAA’s authorities approximately 4,000 employees will be furloughed beginning Saturday July 23, 2011. Without the appropriate authority, taxes will not be deposited into the Trust Fund to pay some FAA employees. Employees who are paid out of the Trust Fund handle a variety of functions including: airport safety and engineering standards; airport safety planning; the Airport Improvement Program, which administers construction project grants to airports; and Research, Engineering, and Development, which includes NextGen research and testing.

Congress has extended the FAA’s authorization 20 separate times.

Without a full year extension, FAA will be unable to move forward on more than $600 million in airport construction projects that include good paying jobs for local communities across the country. Some of these projects include:

*GulfportBiloxi International Airport: proceed with construction of a terminal building expansion, rehabilitation runway lighting, rehabilitation of a taxiway, and rehabilitation of an access road.

*RichmondInternational Airport: proceed with construction of a new apron for terminal concourse A.

*Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: proceed with construction of taxiway Y and Z rehabilitation.

*LaredoInternational Airport: proceed with the rehabilitation of the Engineered Material Arresting System which will help protect passengers if an aircraft leaves the runway.

Additionally, during each of the previous 20 short term extensions, the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program has only received small portions of its $3.5 billion in grant money.

As a result, states and airports have been left waiting to plan projects or begin construction since the total amount available is unknown. Some projects that are already underway are being constructed in stages and the total cost of the project will likely be higher as a result of that approach.

For example, in Wisconsin, the state has delayed accepting construction bids until officials know how much federal funding is available. Unless the FAA receives a longer extension, projects in Wisconsin could be delayed into next year since the construction season will start to wind down at the end of the summer.

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