Last week the Senate released its version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill – the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016. The bill, introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), would extend the agency’s authority through September of 2017.
This extension is far shorter than the six-year House bill, which was rolled out by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) last month. In addition to the length, the major difference is the Senate version would not seek to privatize air traffic control services as the House Bill did creating a point of controversy.
As in the House, the Senate version avoids a hike in passenger facility charges (PFCs) keeping fees at $4.50 per enplanement and instead authorizes an additional $400 million for the Airport Improvement Program. GBTA has long been a vocal opponent of hiking PFC fees as the business traveler already faces an overbearing burden from taxes and fees and GBTA is very concerned that they are approaching the tipping point that will ultimately push business travelers to stay at home.
There are also several areas in the Senate bill providing consumer protections to be aware of that may impact your travelers as they hit the road. The bill directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to review airlines’ decisions to delay or cancel flights, especially during weather-related events. It mandates that airlines and ticket agents disclose luggage, flight change, cancellation and seat choice fees in a standardized, easy-to-understand format.
It also requires the DOT to investigate instances in which an air carrier changed a passenger’s itinerary so the passenger was forced to depart more than three hours earlier or later, as well as cases in which a new itinerary includes more stops. Finally, it requires airlines to refund baggage fees if bags are delivered beyond a specified time frame and to refund other ancillary fees.
Also included in the Senate and the House bills is an issue very important to GBTA. Last week, GBTA thanked Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) for legislation to combat human trafficking on commercial air flights. The Stop Trafficking on Planes (STOP) Act would require training for certain airline industry employees to recognize and report suspected human trafficking to law enforcement.
Last year GBTA partnered with ECPAT, the leading anti-trafficking policy organization fighting sex tourism, to mobilize the travel industry against child exploitation in travel and to educate the travel industry about the warning signs of sex tourism and child exploitation. Unfortunately, our industry is being exploited in helping this horrific practice and GBTA believes the introduction of this language into the FAA bill will play a huge role in the travel industry’s ability to put an end to this.
The FAA Reauthorization bill is being marked up in the Senate today, but it is unclear the likelihood of whether or not it will ultimately pass through Congress. The FAA’s authority currently expires on March 31, but the House passed a short-term 3-month extension on Monday. The Senate will likely follow suit giving Congress until mid-July to agree on a more long-term bill.
GBTA will continue to closely follow events with the FAA as they unfold and keep you up to date on what aspects of it matter most to business travel.