FAA faces partial shutdown as authorization approaches expiration

A vote is scheduled for next week.

September 22, 2017, 6:23 PM
PHOTO: FAA Air Traffic Controller works in the Dulles International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower in Sterling, Va., Sept. 27, 2016.
FAA Air Traffic Controller works in the Dulles International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower in Sterling, Va., Sept. 27, 2016.
Cliff Owen/AP Photo

— -- The authority tasked with regulating the nation's aviation industry is facing a partial shutdown as its authorization to do so expires next Saturday.

To avoid such a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, Congress must pass either an extension of the old piece of legislation or pass an entirely new bill.

But how did we get here? What does it mean? Would air travel come to a halt? ABC News breaks it all down:

Your flights would still operate, but many FAA employees would be furloughed

If Congress fails to pass any kind of reauthorization by Sept. 30, thousands of nonessential FAA employees will face a temporary leave of absence and airport construction workers.

While the construction workers are furloughed, government-contracted projects at airports and FAA facilities intended to increase traffic capabilities will be delayed.

The government will also be unable to collect on airfare taxes, potentially surrendering hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in a matter of weeks.

Airlines will continue to fly safely and passengers are unlikely to see any tangible difference in their flying experience if Congress doesn't pass a reauthorization before October.

Many FAA employees, like air traffic controllers and safety inspectors, would continue to work through the partial shutdown.

Nevertheless, representatives and those in the industry alike are calling the reauthorization a "must-pass" piece of legislation. In addition to furloughing thousands of Americans, it would significantly hinder the FAA's modernization program called NextGen, a project the agency has already spent $7 billion on.

The last time the FAA operated without congressional reauthorization, The Washington Post reported the agency was losing an estimated $30 million a day.

A short-term extension is needed after lawmakers couldn't agree on a long-term plan

The FAA currently operates under a 2016 extension of a 2012 three-year reauthorization, which expires Sept. 30.

The house is scheduled to vote on a six-month extension next week after senators and representatives could not agree on a long-term total reauthorization.

President Donald Trump declared privatizing the FAA's air traffic control responsibilities a formal legislative priority back in June; an agenda for years pushed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster.

Shuster and Trump claim their push to spin the country's air navigation system into a nonprofit corporation is part of their broader plan to modernize infrastructure across the board, but they've struggled to get enough of Shuster's colleagues on the hill onboard.

Democrats have formed a united front in opposition to the privatization plan, but it's Republicans giving Shuster the biggest headache.

Members of Congress and the Senate from more rural areas of the United States believe such a corporation would favor the country's largest airports and airlines, ignoring the needs of the general aviation community and smaller airports.

“This is a tough sell in states like my state of Mississippi, where small airports are very concerned about where this will leave them," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., at a hearing.

While Shuster wants to push a short-term path extending through the end of 2017, Democrats on the hill are demanding a slightly longer version.

“We will not support less than six months,” ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said last week.

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