FAA Deal May Restart Project
By Wanda Freeman and Peter Urban TIMES RECORD • WFREEMAN@SWTIMES.COM | Posted: Saturday, August 6, 2011 10:31 am
WASHINGTON – A measure passed Friday authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration to call back 4,000 idled workers could put a stalled local project back in motion, said Fort Smith Regional Airport Director John Parker.
Since 2007, the FAA has operated without benefit of long-term authorization by Congress. Only through a series of short-term extensions – 21 so far, Parker said Friday – has the agency been allowed to collect the taxes on tickets and fuel that provide reimbursement for airport improvement projects.
When the Senate on July 22 failed to pass any authorizing legislation, thousands of FAA workers were sent home – and 250 airport projects nationwide were put on hold.
In Fort Smith, the airport had received its final reimbursement on the design of Taxiway A West just in time, but a proposal for Phase 1 construction on the project wound up sitting on the desk of a furloughed administrator.
The Senate convened for 45 seconds Friday morning, just long enough for Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., to ask for unanimous consent to approve the bill that had pitted Democrats against Republicans over funding for rural airports. Legislative leaders, however, had struck a deal on Thursday that ended the battle for now. With no objections, Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who was presiding, ordered the legislation approved and gaveled the Senate closed until after Labor Day.
President Barack Obama signed the bill a few hours later.
Friday’s measure extends FAA’s authorization to Sept. 16, 14 days short of the fiscal year-end but perhaps enough time to move forward on Fort Smith’s taxiway approval process.
“It’s good news,” Parker said. “Our application should pick up in the normal progression.”
The project is expected to cost $1.4 million.
“What we’re waiting for now is for the FAA to process our request and give us a grant offer. Then we accept it, then there’s the pre-construction conference, and then we proceed with construction,” he said.
Under Friday’s legislation, commercial air service from Jonesboro would no longer be subsidized through the federal Essential Air Service program.
But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has the authority to waive the provision and allow the subsidy to continue there and at other affected rural airports.
The political standoff drew national attention as LaHood and Obama chided Congress for leaving for their August recess before taking action to get the impacted workers back on the job. The negative attention comes as public opinion of Congress fell to an all-time low.
A CBS News/New York Times poll taken Tuesday and Wednesday found just 14 percent of the public approved of the job Congress is doing while 82 percent disapproved. It was the highest disapproval rating since polling began in 1977.
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