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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: An Overview of Legislative Action in the 111th Congress

Bart Elias, Coordinator  
Specialist in Aviation Policy

Funding authorization for aviation programs set forth in Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176) and authorization for taxes and fees that provide revenue for the aviation trust fund expired at the end of FY2007. While Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation was considered during the 110th Congress, the only related legislation enacted consisted of several short-term extensions for aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority, thus carrying the issue of FAA reauthorization over to the 111th Congress. While FAA reauthorization debate has continued during the 111th Congress, additional short-term extensions have been passed to extend the authorization of aviation programs, funding, and aviation trust fund revenue collections. 

On February 11, 2009, Representative Oberstar introduced the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 915). The bill is similar to FAA reauthorization legislation passed by the House during the 110th Congress (see H.R. 2881, 110th Congress). H.R. 915, as amended, was passed by the House on May 21, 2009. H.R. 915 would authorize almost $54 billion for FAA programs over three years spanning from FY2010 through FY2012. The financing title of the bill would raise fuel taxes for corporate jets and other general aviation aircraft, but would keep fuel taxes paid by the airlines and passengers' taxes at their current rates. The bill would also allow airports to increase passenger facility charges (PFCs), raising the maximum from $4.50 to $7 per passenger. The bill would increase authorized spending for facilities and equipment to support development of Next Generation (NextGen) air traffic modernization initiatives, and would authorize increased funding for airport infrastructure improvement grants. The bill seeks modifications in FAA management and oversight of NextGen air traffic modernization projects, and includes provisions addressing system capacity, aviation safety, environmental issues, and airline industry issues, including airline passenger rights issues. The House also passed the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009 (H.R. 3371) on October 14, 2009, a bill containing numerous provisions related to airline safety. 

On July 14, 2009, Senator Rockefeller introduced the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (S. 1451), containing a two-year FAA reauthorization proposal. The bill would authorize $34.56 billion over a two-year span covering FY2010 and FY2011. Unlike the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007 (S. 1300, 110th Congress), S. 1451 does not contain any proposal for aviation system user fees. Rather, it focuses on accelerating the deployment of NextGen air traffic technologies and a number of safety issues, including the safety of air ambulance operations, unmanned aircraft, commuter airlines, and FAA oversight of airlines and aircraft repair stations. The bill seeks to streamline the PFC approval process, but does not seek any increase to maximum PFC levels. The bill also seeks to improve airline consumer service through enhanced disclosure requirements and contingencies for flights that are substantially delayed, and it seeks an increase in funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidies and small community air service grants. On March 22, 2010, the Senate passed H.R. 1586 as amended, which is similar to S. 1451 and includes an aviation trust fund revenue title. Subsequently, on March 25, 2010, the House passed its amended version of H.R. 1586, titling it the Aviation Safety and Investment Act of 2010, which incorporates the text of H.R. 915 and H.R. 3371. A resolution to the differences in H.R. 1586 is pending. On August 1, 2010, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-216) was enacted, extending FAA programs and aviation trust fund revenue collections through the end of FY2010. The act included several airline safety provisions adopted from the House and Senate versions of H.R. 1586. This report will be updated as needed.

Date of Report: August 5, 2010
Number of Pages: 97
Order Number: R40410
Price: $29.95

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Unintended Acceleration in Passenger Vehicles

Suzanne M. Kirchhoff
Analyst in Industrial Organization and Business

David Randall Peterman
Analyst in Transportation Policy

Congress is considering legislation to strengthen federal regulation of auto safety, in response to hundreds of reported accidents, and more than 50 fatalities, that may be linked to sudden acceleration in certain makes of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Toyota, under pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has recalled more than 6 million autos in the United States, and for a time stopped production of certain new-model vehicles in an effort to address the problems—one of the largest such efforts in recent history. But lawmakers and consumer advocates say federal oversight has been inadequate, given that NHTSA began investigating reports of sudden acceleration in certain Toyotas in 2002. Internal corporate documents indicate that Toyota was slow to address other vehicle quality concerns. NHTSA in April 2010 fined Toyota $16.375 million, the maximum allowed by law, for failing to quickly notify the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) of an accelerator pedal defect in some cars.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is continuing uncertainty about the cause of the Toyota incidents. Despite the recalls, a series of NHTSA investigations, and internal tests by Toyota engineers since 2002, there is not a consensus as to whether reported incidents of sudden acceleration have been caused by sticking accelerator pedals, poorly designed floor mats, driver error, glitches in the electronic throttle systems, or some combination of factors. DOT officials have expanded their investigation into Toyota operations, are taking a broad look at the increasingly complex electronics in all U.S. automobiles, and may recommend tougher standards for vehicles with electronic accelerators. At the same time, Toyota has announced its own stepped-up safety initiatives, including installing brake-override software (a system that gives priority to braking when the brake and accelerator are depressed at the same time) in some recalled and new-model cars, setting up an outside investigative panel headed by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, and changing its corporate structure.

Lawmakers are considering a variety of issues as they craft a legislative response to the problems. Some Members of Congress are concerned that NHTSA did not conduct timely, thorough investigations of consumer complaints about Toyota vehicles and are examining whether the agency has sufficient staff and expertise, particularly in electrical and software engineering, to keep pace with the increasing complexity of autos. NHTSA has two electrical engineers on staff. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has enlisted NASA engineers to assist NHTSA with its review.

Another issue is whether the 2000 TREAD Act, enacted in response to deaths and accidents linked to Firestone tires, has been effective. The act was designed to spur early warning of safety concerns, compel auto manufacturers to expeditiously address problems, and improve consumer information. The number of automotive recalls has increased since the TREAD Act was passed, but most of the recalls are voluntary, in part due to the lengthy legal process required in mandating a recall. Further, the DOT's $16.375 million fine against Toyota is based on the DOT's determination that the company did not comply with the TREAD Act requirements to quickly report defects. Congress is also examining whether Toyota problems are signs of broader issues in the automobile industry. Electronics and software in automobiles account for as much as 40% of the cost of producing a car, and the systems are advancing to the point that they are used to control more essential safety features. U.S. and foreign automakers carry out extensive testing of software and electronics based on industry guidelines and their own, internal standards. The quality control system is less rigorous than for other areas of the transportation sector, however, such as aviation.

Date of Report: July 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: R41205
Price: $29.95

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