New legislation means smoother skies, more jobs

By Sen. Carl Levin

In early February after long delays, Congress passed legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration’s operations. Our action will create thousands of jobs, smooth the way for travelers and commerce, help the nation’s airports grow, and protect air service that provides a vital link to many Michigan communities.

Since the previous FAA authorization expired in 2007, Congress had passed 23 short-term extensions, so permanent legislation was overdue. The final bill, produced in negotiations that reconciled differences between bills passed by the House and Senate, will help create an estimated 350,000 jobs and put our aviation system on track to support economic growth for years to come.

Our global economy depends on the smooth and efficient movement of goods, services and people from place to place and across international borders. Indeed, a safe and efficient aviation system goes hand in hand with a strong economy. With this FAA bill we will continue to make the necessary investments and upgrades to improve our already strong standards.

Perhaps the biggest national impact of this bill is the progress it makes in modernizing our air traffic control system – the system that allows aircraft to move safely through the skies. The bill is a big step toward building the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which will allow aircraft to navigate the skies using satellite signals. Satellite navigation will be more accurate and efficient than the current system, which uses radar signals. This system will increase safety and lower costs for air travelers.

I’m especially pleased by the impact this legislation will have in Michigan. It will create jobs by providing the funding and directives for safety improvements at our airports and in the aviation industry. The FAA is building two new air traffic control towers at Kalamazoo and Traverse City. The FAA is also repaving runways and taxiways at airports in Detroit, Alpena, Flint, Marquette County and elsewhere around the state.

I am also pleased that the bill adopted the Senate’s approach to the Essential Air Service Program and preserves this important program rather than terminating it as the bill passed by the House of Representatives would have done. EAS provides rural communities with access to the national air transportation system and is very important to Michigan. We have eight communities that rely on EAS subsidies to help provide them with commercial air service. The final FAA bill maintains the EAS program at current funding levels with some minor modifications.

One of the main issues holding up the bill for so long was a provision contained in the House bill, but not the Senate bill, to repeal a labor relations rule that ensures that only those votes actually cast in a union election are counted. I was glad that provision was removed from the final bill. Still, I am disappointed that language was added to change Railway Labor Act rules and regulations governing union elections to make it more difficult for workers in transportation industries to organize and bargain collectively. I didn’t believe the FAA reauthorization bill was the appropriate vehicle for this sort of change.

Despite that flaw, the FAA reauthorization legislation on balance is good news for Michigan and the nation. It means more jobs, smoother travel, and more economic opportunity for Michigan.

Carl Levin is a U.S. senator from Michigan.