What to Know in Washington: Pilot Training Stalls FAA Bill

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Senators’ differences over pilot training and expanding flights to Washington’s closest-in airport helped stall a key panel’s plans to consider $107 billion legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee put off its markup of the bipartisan bill yesterday as negotiations continue. A new meeting date has yet to be set — raising concerns about a path forward as lawmakers close in on a Sept. 30 deadline to renew FAA authorities for five years.

Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images
An American Airlines plane flies overhead

A House committee advanced its own FAA bill this week, which aims to boost air traffic controllers and increase airport funding. But any differences between the two chambers’ bills would need to be negotiated before the September deadline.

Ranking member Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said he had reached agreement with Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on difficult issues before Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) weighed in with concerns.

“This is a fight among the Democrats, and so they got to sort it out,” Cruz said. “But I don’t think it’s particularly helpful for Chuck Schumer to parachute in at the last moment and blow up the markup.”

Cantwell said there was “a lot of concern” over the House bill’s pilot training language. The House’s bill would allow as many as 150 additional hours in a full-flight simulator to count toward the 1,500 hours first officer commercial airline pilots need to fly under current regulations. The Senate’s base proposal left the issue untouched, but senators are negotiating an amendment that some members weren’t aware of, Cantwell said, adding “we just had some miscommunication last night about what the right language was and hopefully we can get it worked out.”

Another flashpoint is the proposal to increase the number of nonstop flights that can originate from Reagan National Airport to airports more than 1,250 miles away — a quantity restricted by a federal law often called the perimeter rule.

An increase pits airlines with competing Washington-area airport hubs against each other. It’s also ramped up tension between regional lawmakers worried about congestion and long-distance lawmakers who favor more competition and flights to their home districts.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said she opposes changes because Washington airspace is already crowded. Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, all Democrats in the Washington area, said they would strongly oppose the entire bill with perimeter changes as it may draw business away from Washington-Dulles International Airport. Lillianna Byington has more on the back-and-forth between lawmakers.


  • The House and Senate return Tuesday.


  • President Joe Biden heads to Connecticut this morning to deliver remarks at the National Safer Communities Summit at Hartford University around 2 p.m.
  • Biden heads to Greenwich for a campaign reception shortly after 5 p.m. He’s set to arrive back in Washington around 8 p.m.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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