Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., issued a news release last night announcing his intent to remove the ATC privatization piece from the FAA reauthorization measure, H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act. The decision represents a major shift in Shuster’s direction:

According to the statement, the decision to eliminate the ATC language was based on a lack of bipartisan support for the measure. With this controversial piece removed, however, Shuster has cleared the way for the AIRR Act’s passage once it is scheduled for deliberation by the full chamber. As previously communicated, NJASAP expects the full House to vote on a manager’s amendment to make technical corrections and minor legislative changes to the measure. It is uncertain, but highly likely the manager’s amendment will include language to implement a mandatory retirement age of 65, mirroring existing rules in Part 121. The bill is expected to be considered by the full House in mid March.

According to a report from Politico, "Shuster's white flag means lawmakers should now begin talking more openly about an extension after the current authorization expires March 30, leaving the only real question how long it will be, and whether it will be clean. Regardless, it will give lawmakers some breathing room to pass a long-term bill in both chambers and march it through a conference committee (still a tall order even in the best of circumstances, especially with other competing pressures on the calendar)."

The Senate bill, while not including the ATC reform language, has also not been without controversy. Two anti-labor amendments were added to the legislation during committee markup, one dealing with states’ rights to regulate meal and rest breaks for truck drivers and the other to undermine the minimum 1,500-hour requirement for first officers (FOQ) employed by Part 121 operators. The latter provision drew the ire of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who represents Buffalo, NY, the site of the 2009 Colgan Air crash that led to the new FO requirements.

This opposition has forced the Senate bill into a holding pattern and unable to clear the legislative requirements to be brought to the floor for debate. With Shuster dropping his coveted ATC provision, many are speculating Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune, R-SD, will similarly concede and drop his controversial FOQ amendment.

Despite these new developments and removed roadblocks to consideration in both chambers, the legislative path forward is still unclear. Both chairmen plan to meet and discuss a way forward, leaving three possible scenarios:

  1. The House bill moves with the ATC piece removed, and the Senate takes up the House-passed bill.
  2. The Senate bill moves with the FOQ language removed, and the House takes up the Senate-passed bill.

The two chairmen agree on a whole new piece of legislation, combining pieces of both bills