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Senate passes FAA Reauthorization Bill, including Passengers’ Bill of Rights

(Washington, D.C.) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) hailed the passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill today, which will support economic growth by modernizing the country's aviation system to make it safer and more efficient.

The Senate passed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Act (S.223) in a vote of 87-8. It focuses on crucial upgrades to the country's outdated air traffic control system and protects the rights of airline passengers.

"This bipartisan bill will make the smart investments we need to reduce delays and congestion, improve aviation safety, and spur job creation and economic growth," Shaheen said. "Right now, even Mongolia has a more advanced air traffic control system than the United States. We need 21st century aviation systems to make air travel safer and more efficient."

The bill moves America's economy forward by upgrading airports and accelerating the transition to NextGen, a 21st century, satellite-based air traffic control system. Currently, the aviation system uses ground-based radar instead of satellite technology to locate planes in the sky. Delays will be reduced by 21 percent with the new system, according to FAA estimates, and the reduction in delays will provide $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators, and the FAA.

"As a member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, I am thrilled that FAA Reauthorization has finally passed, said Elisa Muise, representative of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Merrimack resident. "We realize the importance of funding for NextGen and the modernization of the air traffic control system. As a result of the passage of this legislation, we look forward to being able to continue the collaborative efforts between NATCA and the FAA, which will ensure the success of the various modernization projects in the national airspace system."

The bill also includes key provisions cosponsored by Senator Shaheen to protect airline passengers. The Passengers' Bill of Rights ensures that travelers are provided an opportunity to deplane after three hours on the tarmac and are not deprived long periods of time without food, water, or restrooms. Shaheen cosponsored this leigslation after Bedford businesswoman and passenger rights advocate Jennifer Shirkani told Shaheen about her frustrating experiences with tarmac delays.

"It's unreasonable that passengers be trapped on planes without access to food, water, or restrooms. This law ensures that airlines finally respect the rights of passengers," Shaheen said.

The FAA reauthorization bill also includes critical investments for airports, authorizing $8.1 billion to improve airport infrastructure.

"Airports provide a critical component of our state's commerce, bringing business to New Hampshire and shipping cargo in and out of our state. The Manchester airport generates over $1.2 billion in economic activity every year, the majority of which comes from out-of-state residents and foreign travelers," Shaheen said.

"The aviation industry has seen its share of financial challenges over the past few years so we are very pleased to see that Senator Shaheen and other members of the Senate have taken steps to pass the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act," said Mark P. Brewer, A.A.E., Airport Director, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. "This two-year reauthorization of the Airport Improvement Program, funded at $8.1 billion, will allow airports across the county, including Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, to plan longer term for safety, environmental, and infrastructure improvements."

Since the last long-term authorization for the FAA expired in September 2007, Congress has passed only short-term extensions of the law. This two-year extension now heads to the House for its consideration.