WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate committee on Thursday voted on legislation to boost safety inspector and air traffic controller staffing, but declined to endorse raising the airline pilot retirement age to 67 from 65.
The U.S. House of Representatives in July voted 351-69 on a sweeping bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that would hike the mandatory pilot retirement age to 67. The Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-13 to reject the retirement age hike after the FAA said earlier this week it would prefer additional research was conducted before Congress raised the age.
Current international rules would still prevent pilots older than 65 from flying in most countries outside the United States.
Differences between the $107 billion five-year FAA Senate bill and the House version will need to be resolved, but the push has gained momentum after the recent in-flight emergency involving an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 raised questions about FAA oversight of the aircraft maker.
The Senate bill would also approve five additional round-trip flights from Reagan Washington National Airport sought by Delta Air Lines but opposed by other airlines.
The Senate bill prohibits airlines from charging fees for families to sit together and requires airlines to accept vouchers and credits for at least five years, but did not adopt many stricter consumer rules sought by the Biden administration.
Airlines for America, an industry grade group, praised the bill, saying it was pleased the Senate Commerce Committee opted to “forgo policies that would harm consumers and unnecessarily raise operating costs and passenger fares.”
The bill hikes maximum civil penalties for airline consumer violations from $25,000 per violation to $75,000 and aims to address a shortage of 3,000 air traffic controllers by directing the FAA to implement improved staffing standards and to hire more inspectors, engineers and technical specialists.
Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell said the bill makes significant safety improvements.
“We put more FAA safety inspectors on factory floors and more air traffic controllers into towers,” Cantwell said. “We have a huge responsibility to make sure FAA is doing its job to keep passengers safe.”
Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the committee, said the bill will “nurture innovation and nascent technology like air taxis, hypersonic planes, and unmanned aircraft.”
Senators chose not to include new authority for state attorneys general to investigate airline consumer issues, but Cantwell plans to hold hearings and may consider a future bill.
The current bill also requires airplanes to be equipped with 25-hour cockpit recording devices and directs the FAA to deploy advanced airport surface technology to help prevent collisions.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)
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