Why Travelers Should Pay Attention to the Upcoming FAA Reauthorization
09.02.2024 - 18:50
Airline safety—something that many travelers take for granted in the US—has been top of mind this year. Passengers everywhere might be feeling some nerves after a panel of a Boeing 737 Max 9 blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight in early January, a shocking incident that's been followed by accusations of quality control issues on Boeing’s production lines, and possibly those of its contractors.
And a major milestone for improving airline safety is coming up next month, of which travelers should take note: On March 8, the Federal Aviation Agency's (FAA) funding will expire, prompting a vote in the US Senate to refund and reauthorize it for five more years. Don't be put off by the bureaucratic details—reauthorizing the agency is crucial to improving safety standards in America’s air travel system and potentially preventing another crisis like the one Boeing is currently facing. “Making sure that air travel is safe, making sure that the growth in air travel is supported, these are all things that are at stake in FAA reauthorization,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told Spectrum News in December. “It can also have a big effect on the passenger experience.”
The FAA reauthorization bill is essentially a budget and a new set of legislative priorities that lawmakers in Congress give the agency every five years. Among the issues covered in this year’s bill are addressing the ongoing air traffic controller shortage, modernizing safety technology at airports, and increasing staff levels within the FAA—including in safety and technical oversight positions.
“Ultimately the FAA is responsible for air safety in the United States, and the agency has myriad responsibilities in overseeing airlines, airports, repair stations, aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing, and the licensing of pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, and more,” says William McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project. The funding is crucial to keep all of these systems running smoothly.
The reauthorization bill was first passed by the House in June 2023. Since then, it has remained stalled in the Senate, where lawmakers have extended the deadline twice and passed stop-gap funding instead of approving a full bill. If the agency is not reauthorized in a timely manner, “today’s service disruptions and capacity reductions will be further exacerbated," the National Business Aviation Association said in a January 23 letter to Congress, urging lawmakers to pass the bill in full. "We simply can’t afford our national air system to continue to be stretched so thin. We need to move forward on safety, not backward.”
One area of the air travel system that has undeniably been