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Aviation standoff: No deal by U.S. House, Senate for FAA funds

Juneau operations see no immediate impact from Congressional dispute over program

Posted: July 23, 2011 - 11:46pm

The Federal Aviation Administration’s funding authority expired Saturday, but local and federal aviation officials say the immediate impact on Juneau will be minimal.

“We are not going to be affected at all, it’s going to be business as usual for us,” said Steve Turner, air traffic control manager in Juneau.

At Juneau International Airport they were not expecting any problems with moving passengers or cargo, said Patricia deLaBruere, airport spokeswoman.

“Things are going to operate seamlessly for people in or out of Juneau,” she said.

Other Juneau FAA operations, such as the regional Flight Standards Office at Vintage Park said they also would not be affected by the shutdown.

Nevertheless, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said Friday that the issue was important to Alaska, and was a result of a “game of chicken” the House of Representatives was playing with the FAA budget.

Begich said some House members want to limit funding for essential air service for some Lower 48 locations, though not Alaska, and are holding up the reauthorization to force the Senate to go along.

Begich, a Democrat, and his Republican counterpart Lisa Murkowski, said 79-80 Alaska employees will be furloughed due to the standoff. Those are in the regional airports program, which writes grants and provides environmental reviews for airport projects around the state.

One airport she specified as in critical need is Deadhorse, which may miss a construction season if their authorization is delayed.

The Senate and House have each passed reauthorization legislation, but the House has yet to appoint members to a conference committee to work out the differences in the bills.

Begich said he supported the Senate’s bill that simply reauthorized the program and didn’t attempt to resolve the essential air service issue.

Begich also said he supported the Lower 48 essential air service as well, saying it was needed in the rural communities it serves and that a piecemeal attack on the program might wind up affecting Alaska, where it is critical.

The inclusion of the controversial essential air service proposal appears to be in retaliation for the Senate’s refusal to go along with a House proposal which would curtail worker’s rights, Begich said.

“This is irresponsible to say the least and poses public safety risks at its worst,” he said.

In a statement issued Friday, Murkowski was more measured but also blamed the House of Representatives for letting the reauthorization expire.

“Months after passing its bill, the U.S. House has yet to appoint conferees for negotiations,” she said.

She joined Begich in urging the House to pass a “clean” reauthorization to keep the program going and then address other issues later.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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