Hawaii delegation reacts to FAA deal

U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye
U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye
Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono
Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono

WASHINGTON (HawaiiNewsNow) - A congressional compromise has been reached to end the two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration that has halted airport projects and threatened thousands of jobs.

"This action demonstrates that the Congress can act expeditiously. I am very pleased that this agreement will put FAA personnel and contractors back to work" said U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.

The shutdown has idled 74,000 federal employees and cost the government about $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

The deal would allow the Senate to approve a House bill extending the FAA's operating authority through mid-September, including a provision that eliminates $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 rural communities.

"The construction of the new Kona air traffic control tower on the Big Island and the seismic modernization upgrade for the Lihue tower will continue. These projects needed to ensure safe air travel for our residents and visitors" said Senator Inouye.

Congress adjourned earlier this week for its August recess, however the Senate will finalize the deal on Friday by approving a version of the spending measure already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate will use a procedure that does not require lawmakers to return for a vote.

During the partial shutdown, the FAA furloughed 4,000 workers but kept air traffic controllers and most safety inspectors on the job. Forty airport safety inspectors worked without pay, picking up their own travel expenses.

Airline passengers hardly noticed any changes. Airlines continued to work as normal, but they were no longer authorized to collect federal ticket taxes at a rate of $30 million a day. For a few lucky ticket buyers, prices dropped. But for the vast majority, nothing changed because airlines raised their base prices to match the tax.

Some passengers will now be eligible for tax refunds if they bought their tickets before July 23 and their travel took place during the shutdown.

"We must also honor those safety inspectors who have worked without pay to keep the traveling public safe and who even fronted their own out of pocket expenses to do so," said Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono. "I am grateful for the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Jay Rockefeller, who have put paychecks over politics in order to move this process forward."

President Barack Obama praised the bipartisan deal, saying the nation "can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery."

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.