FAA bill helps Nebraska air travel and jobs, and makes misuse of body scan images illegal
February 17, 2011 -- Today, the U.S. Senate approved, 87-8, a two-year Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill, which included key provisions pushed by Nebraska's Senator Ben Nelson that preserved critical funding for Nebraska communities and their airports, and made it a federal crime to misuse body scan images generated at airports and federal buildings.
"This bill aids Nebraska's and our nation's airports to ensure we have an effective, efficient and safe transportation network. An effective transportation network is critical to our national security, economic development and job growth," said Senator Nelson.
"The FAA bill includes initiatives I pushed for to ensure that Nebraska airports are able to keep important safety and infrastructure projects on track. Despite opposition, I'm pleased that the Senate also continued the Essential Air Service program, which Nebraska communities rely on for commercial air service and economic development," Nelson added.
However, just before final passage Nelson voice-voted against an amendment that was accepted that would eliminate commercial air service to Chadron, Alliance and McCook. The amendment would cancel EAS funding to airports that average fewer than 10 passengers per day.
"I will fight to remove this provision in the final Senate-House version of the FAA bill because it will set back economic development in Nebraska when we need to promote growth and jobs," Nelson said.
Nelson said that on balance the overall bill won his support because it will improve aviation in America, and included several provisions he worked directly among them a measure making misuse of body scan images generated at airports or federal buildings a serious federal crime.
"We strike a common sense balance between the need for airport security and Nebraskans' rights to privacy. Nebraskans know that security measures are a necessary reality in our post-9/11 world. But in they shouldn't have their privacy invaded by someone improperly capturing or photographing images from body scanners they pass through," Nelson said.
Nelson provisions included in the FAA bill:
10,000 Enplanement Funding Moratorium
Nelson pushed for a provision which would allow airports that did not reach 10,000 enplanements in calendar years 2008 and 2009 to continue receiving $1 million in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 if they reached 10,000 enplanements in calendar year 2007. This provision was modeled after Senator Nelson's Small Airports Relief Act legislation. Without this temporary waiver of the 10,000 enplanement rule, airports would receive only $150,000 in AIP funding for that fiscal year. Nebraska airports impacted: include Western Nebraska Regional Airport and North Platte Regional Airport.
Projects eligible to use AIP funds include those related to enhancing airport safety, capacity, security, and environmental concerns. In general, airports can use AIP funds on most airfield capital improvements or repairs and in some specific situations, for terminals, hangars, and non-aviation development.
Airport Improvement Program
The bill authorizes $4 billion for this program for fiscal year 2010 and $4.1 billion in fiscal year 2011. AIP funds are primarily used by airports for infrastructure and safety enhancements. These grants are competitive. Over the past five fiscal years, Nebraska airports have received: $56 million in AIP funds in FY10, $48 million in FY09, $38 million in FY08, $14.5 million in FY07, and $21.8 million in FY06.
Extension of Mileage Adjustment
Nelson sponsored a provision that extends through September 2013 a rule requiring the Secretary of Transportation to consult states when determining the most common route when calculating mileage between an Essential Air Service airport and a medium or large airport. This will be used when assessing an airport's eligibility in the EAS program. Nebraska airport impacted: Western Nebraska Regional Airport.
Essential Air Service Program
The bill reauthorizes the EAS program at $200 million to preserve commercial air service to about 140 rural airports nationwide. Nebraska airports that would continue receiving EAS support are Grand Island, Kearney, Scottsbluff, and North Platte.
"If EAS ends it would devastate the economies of rural communities it serves as well as those nearby," Nelson said. "I've heard from numerous people in cities that benefit from EAS subsidies who've told me stories about businesses and industries that wanted to locate or expand and one of the first questions they are asked is whether the city has commercial air service. These job-creating companies don't want to be located in cities where it takes company representatives several hours to drive to get to their plants."
Small Community Air Service Grants
The bill reauthorizes at $35 million the Small Community Air Service Development Program, used by airports to promote airport services and attract travelers. Nebraska airports have been recipients of these grants in the past, including the Kearney Airport receiving a $50,000 grant from the program in FY 2010.