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House and Senate negotiate bill to help FAA add more air traffic controllers and safety inspectors

By The Associated Press,
Published: April 29, 2024, 11:50am

Congressional negotiators have agreed on a $105 billion bill designed to improve the safety of air travel after a series of close calls between planes at the nation’s airports.

House and Senate lawmakers said Monday that the bill will increase the number of air traffic controllers and require the Federal Aviation Administration to use new technology designed to prevent collisions between planes on the ground. They agreed to prohibit airlines from charging extra for families to sit together but left out other consumer protections proposed by the Biden administration.

The bill was negotiated by Republicans and Democrats who lead the House and Senate committees overseeing the FAA, which has been under scrutiny since it approved Boeing jets that were quickly involved in two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019. The legislation will govern FAA operations for the next five years.

The Senate is expected to vote on the 1,069-page measure this week.

The House approved its version of the bill last year, but a Senate committee approved a different version in February after fights over several provisions, including ones dealing with the training and retirement age of pilots.

In the end, negotiators dropped a House provision raising the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots to 67; it will remain at 65. Both chambers had already sidestepped a highly charged issue by narrowly rejecting a proposal backed by small airlines to let aspiring pilots count more time spent in simulators instead of flying planes toward reaching minimum experience standards.

The FAA has a shortage of about 3,000 air traffic controllers nationwide. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the bill requires FAA to improve its staffing standards “to close staffing gaps,” including hiring more safety inspectors.

The bill would allow an additional five daily round-trip flights longer than 1,250 miles to Reagan Washington National Airport. Delta Air Lines and some Western lawmakers wanted to add more, but United Airlines — which dominates less-convenient Dulles Airport 25 miles west of the capital — and lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland opposed the idea, saying that National already was too busy.

Lawmakers in both chambers rejected a proposal from consumer groups to give state officials power to regulate airlines, but the administration separately cut a deal letting 15 mostly Democratic states help the U.S. Transportation Department enforce federal consumer-protection rules.

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