Wednesday, February 8, 2012

FAA funding signals opportunity

The U.S. Senate's approval Monday of a four-year $63.4 billion funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration may open a window of opportunity for the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

The bill calls for speedy modernization with GPS navigation to replace radar technology in the nation's air traffic control system. It also will open skies to unmanned drones.

The last long-term funding for the FAA expired five years ago and the agency has been living on 23 short-term congressional extensions since then.

For years while the agency worked with the local authority on relocation plans for the Hailey airport, it always had one eye looking over its shoulder.

Last fall, congressional disunion resulted in a two-week shutdown of all but essential FAA operations. It pulled the rug out from under an agency that had been seen as unassailable given the critical nature of air service to the nation's commerce. It rocked an agency whose activities stimulate an estimated $1 trillion annually in economic activity.

Last year's shutdown furloughed 4,000 agency employees and left $468 million in airline and fuel taxes uncollected. The squabble over funding turned on a provision that would have made it more difficult for airline employees to unionize.

Unionization provisions in the final bill are still controversial, particularly among Democrats. The final bill also removed some subsidies for tiny rural airports.

With President Obama's signature expected on the funding bill soon, maybe the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority and the FAA can apply the urgent speed needed to untangle the snarl of uncertainty that surrounds the future of commercial air service in the Sun Valley area. Maybe the FAA can turn its attention to helping an area that desperately needs its guidance and expertise.

The clock is ticking.

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