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House signs off FAA bill that addresses aircraft safety, refund rights for passengers

Washington, D.C. — Congress gave final approval Wednesday to a $105 billion bill designed to increase the number of air traffic controllers, add more safety inspectors at aircraft factories, and require airlines to automatically pay refunds to travelers whose flights are canceled or significantly delayed.

The House passed the measure to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs by a 387-26 margin and sent it to President Joe Biden. The Senate passed the measure last week.

Supporters called the provisions of the legislation a key step in improving aviation safety after a number of close calls between planes at U.S. airports in the last two years.

“This bill recognizes while our aviation system is safe, we have to continue raising the bar for safety,” said Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which produced the first version of the legislation 10 months ago.

The Republicans and Democrats who lead the key aviation committees in the House and Senate negotiated over the bill's final shape last month, then fought off amendments that might have slowed the measure's passage.

One of the most contentious issues turned out to be the addition of 10 long-haul flights a day to and from Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C. Lawmakers from Virginia and Maryland tried to kill the provision.

Rep. Donald Beyer, D-Va., said the extra flights would “aggravate dangerous conditions” and cause more flight delays at the busy airport across the Potomac River from the nation's capital. But lawmakers from Western states, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fought for the flights, as did Delta Air Lines.

The final version of the law authorizing FAA and National Transportation Safety Board programs for the next five years checked in at more than 1,000 pages. Congress has been critical of the FAA since it approved Boeing 737 Max jets that were involved in two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The bill's major provisions include directing the FAA to hire more air traffic controllers and safety inspectors, to increase the use of collision-avoidance technology at airports and to improve access for passengers with disabilities.

It also bans airlines from charging fees to let families sit together and requires them to issue automatic refunds when flights are canceled or delayed for several hours.

Airlines are suing the Biden administration to block a new Transportation Department rule on the automatic refunds, and inclusion of the provision in law could help the administration's legal case. Graves said the issue could lead to higher fares or result in refunds to travelers who would prefer being booked on another flight, but it didn't prevent him from supporting the bill.

Copyright Associated Press

 

 

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