The most noteworthy of those is a $65 million terminal project at Duluth International Airport. Work on the external structure is ongoing and unaffected by the shutdown, but the airport hopes to bid out internal work before the fall, said Brian Grefe, the director of operations at Duluth International.
“We’re not in complete panic mode yet, but we are concerned,” he said Wednesday.
Other Minnesota airports were even less affected. Rochester International is planning a fall electrical project that will be eligible for FAA grants, but Kurt Claussen, the deputy airport director, said it was so small they could have gone forward, shutdown or not.
And Minneapolis-St. Paul International plans to bid out two construction projects in November, but an airport spokesman said it isn’t known how, if at all, the shutdown will affect how long it takes the FAA to approve projects that are still months away.
LaHood warned Thursday that as workers return to a backlog of requests, there could still be delays.
“The longer these people are off work, the more delayed they’re going to be doing their job when they get back,” he said. “There will be delays.”
Congress has not passed a long-term extension of the FAA’s spending authority for four years, relying otherwise on 21 short-term extensions to keep it open. The extension the Senate approved Friday will keep the FAA open through September.
The current debate over a long-term plan focuses on two main issues: funding for subsidies to regional airports and labor practice provisions.
Essential Air Service is a program through which the federal government subsidizes airlines operating to small regional airports throughout the country, including to three in Minnesota. The House of Representatives voted in April the end the plan altogether, while the Senate has sought to preserve it.
The short-term authorization the House passed would have ended those subsidies for airports in Montana, West Virginia and Nevada, states home to top Democratic lawmakers who contended the cuts were more political than anything.
After the short-term extension is signed into law, LaHood will issue waivers continuing those subsidies until a final deal can be reached. Both chambers have agreed on cuts to at least 16 small regional airports (none in Minnesota) in a final deal.
Delta labor dispute
Perhaps a larger dispute is over language in the House bill that would overrule a National Mediation Board ruling that would have made it easier for airline employees to organize. Delta Airlines, whose flight attendants alleged interference from the company during their bid to unionize last November, has opposed the ruling, which would require only a majority of voting employees to approve a union, not a majority of all employees.
“This issue has nothing to do with Essential Air Service,” said Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, whose state has a few EAS airports that would lose their subsidies. “It has everything to do with a labor dispute between airlines and the American worker.”
LaHood said it’s Congress’s duty to resolve the matter in a final FAA deal.
“That’s something that Congress should work out. If they don’t like language in a bill, work it out, like you do a lot of other things round here,” he said, adding that the continued use of short-term extensions is not a good strategy for running the FAA.
“This is not the way to run the best and the safest aviation system in the world.”
Update, 12:40: National Public Radio has a story outlining Delta’s lobbying efforts that happen to coincide with the House’s move to rescind the new labor laws.
Delta has spent $2.8 million on lobbying this year, according to disclosure forms, and has hired the talents of the powerful Breaux Lott Leadership Group. That group, lead by former Democratic (John Breaux) and Republican (Trent Lott) senators, also lobbies for the Air Transport Association, a trade group of the airline industry.
ATA sued the National Mediation Board after it released the new unionization guidelines and lost. Delta, as the story notes, is one of the few major American airlines that is not unionized, and it began lobbying this year just as the House began considering the FAA bill.