CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As thousands of Federal Aviation Administration workers began receiving furlough notices, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wants House Republicans to stop blocking the agency's funding.
"I was appalled that the House went through on its dangerous threats last week to hold the entire FAA bill hostage to their politics," said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Rockefeller asked House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., to immediately convene a conference to resolve differences between the Senate and House FAA bills.
Restoring FAA funding, Rockefeller said on Wednesday, would help thousands of FAA workers now without paychecks and restore support for airport renovation projects around the country. The FAA, which has 47,000 employees, partially shut down on Saturday because its authority from Congress to operate expired.
Because the FAA cannot collect ticket taxes while it's shut down, most airlines have been pocketing the money that would normally go to pay taxes, rather than passing the savings on to consumers.
On Tuesday, Rockefeller and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., sent a letter to Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines and chairman of the Air Transport Association, asking airlines to stop pocketing those taxes.
Those taxes -- $61 for every $300 airline ticket, according to the ATA -- pay for improvements to airports and future air-traffic control systems.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood estimates private airlines could make up to $200 million a week by pocketing those taxes.
In their letter, Rockefeller and Cantwell stated, "We are deeply perplexed by the industry's pocketing of passenger tax revenue even though they expired on July 22, 2011 ...
"Most of ATA's members have elected not to pass the savings along to consumers through reduced ticket prices, but rather have decided to increase the base fare of airline tickets....
"We urge the nation's airlines to put all of the profits that they are making from the lapse of the aviation taxes into an escrow account so that they can be transferred back into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund when Congress reinstates the taxes."
In their proposed FAA legislation, House Republican leaders also included a provision to cut Essential Air Service financial aid to 13 small airports, eliminating EAS funds from any small airport within 90 miles of a major airport. That would include the airport in Morgantown, which is about 90 miles from Pittsburgh.
If the Morgantown airport loses its EAS funding, it probably will not be able to provide any passenger services to the public.
Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., whose district includes Morgantown, voted against the FAA reauthorization legislation backed by most Republicans.
McKinley said he was not allowed to introduce any amendment to restore funding for the Morgantown airport. The House bill would not take EAS funds away from airports In Parkersburg and Bridgeport, he said.
"It is time to stop playing politics with our transportation infrastructure," McKinley said last week.
"Local airports, which in many small towns and rural areas serve as crucial engines of job creation, should not be a partisan issue. Members of both parties in both houses need to stop the bickering and do what's right for our local communities."
The House Republican legislation to reauthorize FAA funding includes a provision to make it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to organize a union, overturning a 2010 National Mediation Board decision.
Under that provision, any worker who does not vote in a union election will be considered as having cast a "no" vote against union representation.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Rockefeller criticized House Republican leaders for "insisting on a provision pushed primarily by Delta Air Lines to benefit their anti-worker agenda."
Rockefeller said the Senate would not approve legislation with that provision and that President Obama would not sign it.
On Tuesday, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said, "Republicans should [also] stop jeopardizing the jobs of early 90,000 American construction workers and penalizing the people who keep our skies safe."
Rahall is asking for an immediate "clean extension" to keep the FAA functioning through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.
A broad spectrum of aviation organizations support extending current legislation, Rahall said, including: the National Association of State Aviation Officials, Airports Council International, American Association of Airport Executives, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.