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VOL. 41 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 30, 2017
Senate committee backs aviation bill minus key Trump goal
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican-led Senate committee on Thursday backed an aviation bill that omits one of President Donald Trump's goals — turning air traffic control operations over to a private company.
The legislation would increase spending for airport improvements and would protect passengers from being forcibly removed from a plane once they are approved to board.
The plan to reauthorize federal aviation programs through Sept. 30, 2021, has support from Republicans and Democrats, and passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee by voice vote.
Still, a major fight is brewing over a provision that would expand the type of training that pilots could receive to meet the 1,500-hour requirement necessary to hold a pilot certificate.
A House panel this week approved legislation that would split off air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration — at odds with the Senate version.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the committee chairman, said he was "open-minded about the idea," but appreciates that concerns exist, so the proposal would be considered more when the bill advances to the full Senate.
Several Republicans fear the impact on rural airports from privatization, and many Democrats oppose the change.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was adamant about opposition to privatization, saying that no matter how hard various interest pressed, it lacks broad support at the committee level and in the full Senate. He described the proposals as "simply not there as a sound idea for the safety of travelers, taxpayers, the economy and the security of this country."
On pilot training, Thune said his proposal could help ease a shortage for regional airlines. Democrats warned that the change would undermine safety.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said any accident that occurred with a pilot who had received training through the new standards "will be on us."
Nelson told committee members that he was instructed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that if the bill contained Thune's proposal when it reached the Senate floor, he would use every parliamentary tactic available to block it.
Thune said after the vote that he's willing to work with Democrats to ease their concerns.
"But I do think that we have a serious crisis brewing in rural areas of the country, smaller communities and smaller airports," Thune said regarding a shortage of certified pilots.
One area where lawmakers are united is in providing passengers with more protections from the actions of the airlines, particularly to prevent the forced removal of passengers unless they pose a health or safety risk. That's a direct response to a United Airlines passenger who was violently dragged off a flight out of Chicago earlier this year.
The bill also would eliminate the caps on compensation passengers can receive if they are involuntarily bumped from a flight.