May 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate reauthorizes FAA programs

 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) arrives for a news conference

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) arrives for a news conference. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Senate late Thursday passed a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration that includes programs to improve safety and protect consumers, ending weeks of grappling that threatened to disrupt air travel.

Why it matters: Senate leadership struggled to find a path to reauthorize the aviation safety authorities ahead of Friday's deadline. Senators filed more than 100 amendments to what will be one of the last must-past packages before the election.

  • Ultimately, none of those amendments received a vote and the package passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
  • The Senate also passed a one-week extension to buy the House time to pass the full package when it returns next week to avoid a short-term lapse.

Between the lines: The Senate voted 88-4 to pass the five-year reauthorization, with just four Democratic senators voting against it. Eight senators did not vote.

  • "If we let funding for the FAA lapse, it could be disastrous for the safety of our skies and the efficiency of our airports," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday.
  • If the authorities had lapsed, roughly 3,600 FAA employees would have been furloughed without guarantee of backpay starting Friday. The FAA would not have been able to collect daily airport fees, an FAA spokesperson told Axios.

Zoom in: Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) threatened to block a one-week extension if they weren't guaranteed a vote on an amendment stripping from the bill the addition of five flights to the D.C.-area Ronald Reagan National airport (DCA).

  • There were concerns that if the amendment passed it would derail the broader package.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the main GOP negotiator, blocked an effort to allow a vote on the Virginia senators' DCA amendment.
  • Warner and Kaine eventually lifted their hold on the extension out of "concern for the safety of the flying public and in order to provide certainty to air traffic controllers and other essential personnel," according to a Warner spokesperson.

Between the lines: FAA reauthorization is largely uncontroversial, intended to keep U.S. air travel safe and operating smoothly.

  • But it was one of the last opportunities for senators to attach and pass their pet pieces of legislation — which led to a flurry of related and unrelated amendments being filed by members of both parties.
  • The additional flights at Reagan National and policies concerning airline refunds also were major points of contention.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the House passing a one-week extension of the FAA deadline.

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