FAA Bill Amended Again

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A conference committee of the House and Senate has agreed to strip language relating to the privatization of 69 FAA control towers from the long-delayed FAA Reauthorization Bill but privatization opponents say that's not the end of the debate. The bill, which should have been passed in September, has been held up over the privatization clause and it's still not clear how the latest move will affect its passage. FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the new conference report will likely be put in front of the House today and passage is expected. But passage by the Senate is expected to take longer and Martin said a continuation of the current temporary spending authority, which expires Friday, will almost certainly be required. Martin said the latest incarnation of the bill would maintain the status quo, in which privatization is not directly referenced in the spending authority. Martin maintains that the authority to privatize the 69 towers already exists but hasn't been exercised. But the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said the new conference report contains a clause that allows privatization of the whole ATC system. "It's time to stop covering up the truth. What it is being proposed in the new conference report still contains language specifically giving the White House authority to contract out our air traffic control system to the lowest bidder," said NATCA President John Carr. Originally, both houses passed the bill with language outlawing ATC privatization and Carr wants that language restored. But Martin said the FAA needs some flexibility to expand the contract-tower program, if necessary, to meet changing demands in the future. "Nobody ever gets everything they want (in legislation)," he said. "There is too much good in [the bill] for it to be held up by the contract tower dispute." The $60 billion bill contains hundreds of millions of dollars in airport and other infrastructure spending that is on hold pending passage by Congress.