WASHINGTON — A sweeping aviation bill that could thwart proposed new safety regulations, including one that would prevent tired pilots from flying, passed the House on Friday.
The $59.7 billion Republican-drafted bill is a blueprint for Federal Aviation Administration programs for the next three and a half years. It cuts the agency's budget by $4 billion, money GOP lawmakers said the agency can do without. Democrats said the cuts would endanger air safety.
The bill passed on a 223-196 mostly party line vote. It would require the FAA to tailor regulations to different segments of the aviation industry rather than set across-the-board safety standards. It also would prohibit new safety regulations if the agency can't justify the costs to the industry.
Lawmakers also clashed over a labor provision in the bill that would make it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to unionize. The White House warned on Wednesday that President Barack Obama may veto the bill if the funding levels and the labor provision are retained. The Senate has passed a version of the bill that doesn't include the labor provision.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., author of the provision on safety regulations, said it would apply only to future FAA regulations and wouldn't affect regulations the agency is already working on. But Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., a former aviation subcommittee chairman, said the provision would make the agency's cumbersome rule-making process even more difficult.
The FAA already has to weigh the cost of new regulations, but Shuster's provision would give more weight to economic factors.
FAA is at work on eight separate sets of new regulations required under a landmark aviation safety law enacted by Congress last year, including regulations that would adjust how many hours pilots can be required to work and how much rest time they must be given between flights.
Among those campaigning against Shuster's provision were the families of victims of a regional airline crash near Buffalo, N.Y., two years ago and Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the airline captain whose piloting skills were lauded after he ditched his plane into the Hudson River following a collision with a flock of geese. Sullenberger predicted in an interview with the Associated Press this week that if enacted, the provision would cost lives.