FAA Reauthorization bill — impact on the air freight industry

Leaders in the US Senate and House of Representatives reached a compromise on several issues that have been blocking passage of legislation allowing continued operation of the country’s Federal Aviation Administration. That is long-awaited good news, and will open the door to progress on issues like the implementation of the Next Generation air traffic system. It will also impact on the air freight industry, as two of the major roadblocks on the road to the compromise were freight-related.

The last FAA funding legislation expired over four years ago, and with the Senate and House unable to agree on language of a reauthorization bill, the FAA has been kept alive by a series of twenty-three short-term funding extensions. Among the issues that caused politicians to split along party lines were two that directly affect the air freight industry: tighter regulations to govern the carriage of lithium batteries, and changes in the requirements for union certification.

On the battery issue, House and Senate are reported to have agreed to include language blocking tougher rules that would have required the batteries to be classified as dangerous cargo. Given that loss of aircraft and life in recent crashes of UPS and Asiana freighters may (we stress “may”) have been caused by battery fires, we would be surprised if this language was not challenged by unions representing pilots.

On the labor issue, The House dropped its proposal to overturn a National Mediation Board (NMB) ruling that makes it easier for airline workers to organize, in exchange for a provision that would increase the number of employees necessary to request a union election to 50% from the current level of 35%. How this will effect FedEx (which was at the center of this particular issue) is not yet clear. 

Whatever the outcomes on these two issues, it is heartening to see politicians in Washington finally overcoming partisan ideology and getting some real work done.

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