With the hectic summer travel season in full swing and the aviation system scrambling to keep up, Congress is expected to vote on legislation that over the next five years will shape the agency responsible for safely managing space. of the nation and regulate its airlines.
Lawmakers this week will fight over Federal Aviation Administration rules on everything from how pilots are trained to how long they can work and whether travelers will get more compensation for canceled or delayed flights.
The White House weighed in Monday, calling on House members to uphold an Obama-era requirement that advertised airfares must include mandatory taxes and fees, and add consumer protections proposed by President Joe Biden.
Congress faces a September 30 deadline to act on the legislation. The House is expected to vote this week on a bill that emerged from the transportation committee with bipartisan support. The Senate is behind on its version, which would authorize more than $100 billion in spending: A committee vote was blocked last month over disagreement over pilot training.
Many provisions of the legislation will affect airline consumers, including one that would reverse a 2011 Department of Transportation regulation that requires airlines to display the full price of a ticket in advance in advertising. Instead, airlines could provide a link to the full price of a ticket.
Consumer advocates oppose the rollback, and the White House sided with them Monday, saying full-fare advertising is needed to help consumers compare ticket purchases.
The airlines point out that most companies that sell products to consumers do not need to include taxes and fees in the initial price. Critics say airlines are trying to crack down on regulation that has saved consumers time and money.
“Airlines want to rip off Americans with deceptive and confusing tactics to hide the true cost of flights from customers,” said Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Pa., one of several lawmakers seeking to keep full-fare advertising when the bill passes to the floor of the house.
The White House has also asked Congress to require airlines to compensate passengers when flights are canceled or delayed for reasons within the airline’s control. Under pressure from the administration, most US airlines now say they offer hotel and meal vouchers in such cases.
The Transportation Department wants to go further and plans to propose regulations to require cash compensation, but that could take years and be challenged in court.
Consumer groups hope the Senate bill will include more of the provisions they want. They are disappointed by the House bill, which emerged as a compromise between Transportation Committee Chairman Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, and Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat.
The House bill “was a missed opportunity to address many issues that consumers have expressed with the airline industry for decades,” said John Breyault, vice president of the National Consumers League. “We think the Senate bill goes much further” on rebates and the Department of Transportation’s authority to protect consumers.
There is broad support for the House bill’s provisions that give the FAA money to hire more air traffic controllers, improve technology and work on integrating drones and air taxis into the nation’s airspace.
Other issues are more contentious, particularly a change to pilot training standards that passed the House committee by a single vote. It would count more time in simulators toward the number of flight hours needed to qualify for an airline pilot’s license—the “1,500-hour rule.”
Smaller airlines are pushing for the change, saying it will alleviate a pilot shortage that is already causing a loss of service to smaller communities. Opponents say it will undermine security.
“A vote to lower the 1500 hour rule will be blood on your hands when an unavoidable accident occurs as a result of an inadequately trained flight crew,” Senator Tammy Duckworth told her colleagues on the Senate floor last month. The Illinois Democrat is a former Army pilot who lost both legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq.
The House bill also raise the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 65 to 67. Smaller airlines say it’s another way to alleviate a pilot shortage, but pilot unions oppose the change, and the White House called Monday for more research into the matter.
Delta Air Lines and southwest airlines it also wants Congress to add more long-haul flights at Reagan Washington National Airport. Flights at the airport are generally limited to 1,250 miles: Dallas, Houston and Minneapolis fall within that line, but major cities on the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains do not. Delta says the additional service at the nearby airport will lower fares for visitors to the nation’s capital.
United Airlines, the dominant carrier at the less convenient Dulles airport, argues that National is already too congested and that more flights will cause more delays. The FAA agrees, as does american airlines, the largest operator of National. The region’s congressional delegation is siding with United, fearing more flights will increase noise in neighborhoods near National.
David Koenig, Associated Press