The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Tuesday approved a six-year FAA reauthorization bill that would privatize the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system.

Also, as part of the day's floor proceedings, the committee passed amendments that would set minimum standards on aircraft seat configurations and would uphold labor standards for European airlines entering the U.S. market. Plus, there's a provision to repeal the full-fare advertising rule implemented by the Department of Transportation in 2012. 

The 32-25 vote on the bill, which was championed by the Republican majority, came largely along party lines and sets the stage for a possible hearing on the House floor later this summer.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold its own hearing on FAA reauthorization Thursday. But the Senate bill doesn't include ATC privatization.

A privatization proposal championed last year by House transportation committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) made it through the committee but never got a vote on the House floor.

To maintain funding, Congress must reauthorize the FAA by Sept. 30, or otherwise pass a short-term extension.

Under the terms of the House FAA bill, known as the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, management of ATC would be removed from the auspices of the FAA and taken over by a nonprofit organization run by a 13-person board.

The board would include representatives from mainline, regional and cargo airlines as well as the business aviation and general aviation communities. Airports, commercial pilots, air traffic controllers and the Department of Transportation (DOT) would also be represented.

Supporters of privatization say it will speed the replacement of radar-based ATC technology with the satellite-based NextGen system. They also say that it will set ATC aside from partisan Congressional funding battles. Opponents say privatization could remove consumer protections and serve as a disadvantage to the general aviation community while benefitting major airlines.

The inclusion Tuesday of an amendment to the reauthorization bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) was a victory for consumer advocates. Under the amendment, the DOT would be required to set minimum seat widths and distances between seating rows on commercial aircraft within one year of the law's enactment. The measure comes as airlines are squeezing additional seats into planes to maximize revenue.

Airline industry labor unions as well as airlines Delta, United and American are among those that are sure to be pleased with the inclusion of the amendment related to European airlines operating out of so-called "flag of convenience" countries. The provision would forbid the DOT from issuing foreign air carrier permits under the U.S.-EU open skies agreement to an airline that would undermine labor standards contained in the agreement.

The amendment is a response to the approval late last year of Norwegian Air's foreign air carrier permit for an Ireland-based subsidiary that flies under the Norwegian Air livery. The airlines and labor groups accuse Norwegian of locating in Ireland because labor laws there are more lax than laws in Norway. Norwegian Air says the move facilitated fleet management. 

A repeal of the full-fare advertising rule, a revocation that ASTA and consumer advocates vociferously oppose and airlines support, would mean that airlines, packagers and travel agents could display base fares in print and online advertising, so long as taxes and fees are separately disclosed. Right now, fare ads must display one total price that includes taxes and fees.

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