By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
For about five years, the FAA has limped along with 23 short-term funding appropriations from Congress, but on Tuesday, congressional leaders said they have reached agreement on a four-year, $63 billion funding bill. The legislation has not yet been released, but according to USA Today, the funding will accelerate the creation of the NextGen air traffic control system. A new post will be created -- the Chief NextGen Officer -- to oversee the effort, and a schedule for progress will be set. The bill also assures funding subsidies for rural airports at $190 million a year. New labor rules will make it harder for airline employees to unionize, requiring half the workers in a bargaining unit to petition for a vote to certify a union, an increase from the current 35 percent.
"All of us at this table made compromises," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chair of the Senate's transportation committee, told USA Today. "The outcome is that we have a bill that will take steps to modernize our air traffic control system, make the air transportation system safer than ever, and make certain small communities have access to critical air service." The bill also calls for more slots to open at Reagan National Airport, in Washington, D.C. The Senate and House now need to vote on the bill before Feb. 17, when the current short-term bill expires.