NATIONAL NEWS

House aims to ease air travel delays with more money for air traffic controllers

Jul 20, 2023, 11:14 AM

FILE - American Airlines pilot captain Pete Gamble, left, and first officer John Konstanzer conduct...

FILE - American Airlines pilot captain Pete Gamble, left, and first officer John Konstanzer conduct a pre-flight check before taking off from Dallas Fort Worth airport on Dec. 2, 2020, in Grapevine, Texas. The House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would give the Federal Aviation Administration more money to hire air traffic controllers. It also aims to address pilot shortages by raising the mandatory retirement age. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration would get more money to hire air traffic controllers and the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots would be raised under a bill approved Thursday by the House.

The measure seeks to improve air travel, which has been plagued by delays and cancellations during its busiest times, and would reauthorize FAA programs for the next five years. It passed on a mostly bipartisan vote of 351-69.

The Senate is working on its version of the bill ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline for action. The two chambers will have to reconcile differences or else approve a short-term extension of existing FAA programs by then.

The House approval came after a string of votes on contentious issues. Lawmakers voted 243-139 to remove a provision that would have allowed more flight simulator hours to be credited toward the 1,500-hour in-flight requirement to become an airline pilot.

Smaller airlines lobbied for the change, saying it would ease a pilot shortage that is already causing a loss of service to smaller communities. But opponents including pilot unions said the change would undermine safety.

A provision raising the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 65 to 67 survived despite opposition from pilot groups.

The House rejected an effort to increase the number of long-haul flights at Reagan Washington National Airport. Delta Air Lines pushed for the increase, joined by lawmakers from cities hoping to get nonstop service to the airport near downtown Washington. Flights to and from the airport are generally limited to 1,250 miles.

Opponents said the airport is already too congested and that adding more flights would lead to more delays. United Airlines, with a major operation at farther-out Dulles Airport, lobbied against the increase in flights at National.

The Senate is behind schedule on its version of the aviation measure, which would authorize more than $100 billion in spending. A committee vote was blocked last month by the disagreement over pilot training.

Many provisions in the House version of the legislation will affect airline consumers, including one that would roll back a Transportation Department regulation from 2011 requiring airlines to show the total price of a ticket upfront in advertising. Airlines could instead provide a link to the all-in price of a ticket.

Consumer advocates oppose the rollback, and the White House took their side Monday, saying full-fare advertising is needed to help consumers do comparison shopping for tickets.

Consumer groups hope that the Senate bill will include more of the provisions they want. They are underwhelmed by the House bill, which emerged as a compromise between Transportation Committee Chairman Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, and Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat.

Graves said the bill “improves the safety of our system, our airport infrastructure, and the quality of service for passengers.”

Scores of business groups and airlines applauded the House approval of the FAA legislation.

“This bill makes important progress that will enable the FAA to hire and train more controllers, to improve air traffic control technology and to strengthen the pipeline of trained workers, including pilots and aviation maintenance technicians,” American Airlines said in a statement after the vote.

____

Koenig reported from Dallas.

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House aims to ease air travel delays with more money for air traffic controllers