Durbin Statement on Senate Passage of FAA Reauthorization Bill

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today issued the following statement following the Senate passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2024, which will reauthorize funding for FAA programs through Fiscal Year 2028:

“As a frequent flyer who relies on our nation’s pilots and air traffic controllers to safely return home to Illinois each weekend, I know that maintaining flight service is critical.  Chockful of support for training and recruitment for air traffic controllers and pilots, this legislation will address staffing shortages while also working to preserve flight service in smaller Illinois communities.  I urge my House colleagues to swiftly pass the bill so that President Biden can sign it into law without delay or disruption to FAA programming.

“While the bill offered vital support to the industry, I was disappointed that it failed to offer necessary regulation and oversight on the frequent flyer and airline rewards programs.  With a constant stream of reports that airlines are devaluing points and making it harder for consumers to achieve promised rewards, we must crack down the unfair and deceptive practices used by airlines in these programs.”

Earlier this month, Durbin questioned U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) about how the agency can better conduct oversight over airline reward programs.  Following the introduction of his bipartisan Credit Card Competition Act, Durbin has kept a watchful eye on airlines’ reward programs.  In an effort to protect consumers against unfair and deceptive practices used by airlines in these programs, Durbin has sent letters to DOT and CFPB calling for more oversight and met with CFPB Director Rohit Chopra on the issue.

The reauthorization bill included the following Durbin priorities:

  • Addressing the air traffic controller shortage:  The bill requires the FAA to set its hiring target as the maximum number of controllers that the air traffic controller academy can train.  It also requires that FAA implement improved staffing standards developed with the labor workforce to close staffing gaps.  The bill also directs the FAA to develop a plan to expand its training capacity and submit it to Congress.
  • Airport grant funding:  Increases annual funding for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for airports from $3.3 billion to $4.4 billion.  More than 80 Illinois airports benefit from this funding, through both entitlements and competitive awards, and Illinois routinely receives sizeable grants from the program.  Most recently, Quincy Airport received $14 million for its runway project.
  • Aviation workforce grant funding:  The bill expands this funding across three grant programs, each authorized at $20 million per year for education and recruitment of aviation maintenance, pilot, and manufacturing workers.  The aviation industry in Illinois generates more than $95 billion in economic activity across 500,000 jobs.
  • New PFAS grant program:  The bill establishes a new reimbursement-based grant program to help airports dispose of PFAS in firefighting foam and replace it with safer solutions.
  • Consumer protections for airline passengers:  The bill establishes new standards for refunds following airline cancellations or flight delays, and it also authorizes a Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for the DOT Office of Aviation Consumer Protection.
  • Essential Air Service (EAS) community protection:  The bill would allow DOT to impose penalties for EAS providers that try to terminate or reduce service to these communities.  There have been a few attempts by airlines to terminate or reduce service to Illinois’ EAS communities – Decatur, Marion, and Quincy – in recent years, and Durbin called on DOT to hold the airlines to their contracts.  The bill also increases EAS annual funding.
  • Springfield airport: The bill includes Durbin’s amendment requiring DOT to study how federal programs can help nonhub airports, that are also not Essential Air Service communities, to retain sufficient flight service.  It requires DOT to begin working on the report within 90 days, and deliver it to Congress within one year.