Opinion: FAA Extension Reveals Bad Art Of Backroom Deal

Congressional leaders produced a 17-month extension of the FAA’s authority that scapegoats repair stations in the name of protectionism and fear.


Wherever in the world you’re observing the U.S. electoral process, it’s easy to sense a burning animosity toward “business as usual” in Washington. Citizens are dissatisfied with a deadlocked government populated by politicians more concerned with self-preservation than good policy and working through secretive deliberations outside the public view.

In mid-July, as the clock ran down on the FAA’s funding and operational authority, American lawmakers scrambled to put together legislation to keep the agency open. They produced and passed the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 and in the process wronged the global aviation maintenance industry.

Congress has a bad habit of missing FAA reauthorization deadlines, so short-term continuations of the agency’s authority are often necessary. The Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) has long held that necessary aviation policy changes should be made only in the context of “full” reauthorizations, not “must-pass” extensions. In particular, controversial provisions should only be considered in a manner that is open and transparent, amendable and subject to full legislative scrutiny in both congressional chambers.

Instead, congressional leaders used backroom negotiations to produce a 17-month extension of the FAA’s authority (to September 2017). The final result includes provisions mandating pre-employment background checks for all Part 145 repair station employees performing safety-sensitive functions on air carrier aircraft and setting arbitrary, impossible-to-meet deadlines for the FAA’s rulemaking on foreign drug and alcohol testing. Both are solutions in search of problems that will drive up costs for aviation maintenance companies and provide no safety benefit.

As time ran out, American lawmakers were itching to attend their party conventions and campaign for reelection. Congress put itself in a “must-pass” situation, so those opposed to the repair station provisions had no way to protect maintenance providers without voting to shut down the agency. Once the deal emerged, procedural rules made it virtually impossible to alter or stop.

You can find a full update on the bill at arsa.org/faa-reauthorization. The simple truth is that lawmakers, behind the veil, used this extension to scapegoat repair stations in the name of protectionism and fear. 

Daniel B. Fisher is senior legislative associate of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein. As a registered federal lobbyist, he advocates for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.

Stay on top of the reauthorization process and its impact on the global maintenance industry at arsa.org/faa-reauthorization

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