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FAA shutdown: the economic toll

FAA shutdown is partial: Air-controllers still working, but airport building projects suspended. No immediate solution in view for FAA shutdown.

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Transportation officials have said safety won't be compromised. But it was unclear how long the FAA can continue day-to-day operations before travelers begin to feel the effects of the shutdown.

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Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said there have been no negotiations between the House and Senate to resolve the dispute.

Republican leaders said they are determined to hold to their position that the Senate must accept a House-passed bill to extend FAA operations through mid-September even though it contains a provision eliminating $16.5 million in air service subsidies for 13 rural airports. Democrats say that provision is unacceptable.

"This is sort of sad, you know," Mica told reporters. "On the eve of the country's finances near collapse, it's sort of symbolic of the whole problem here — no one is willing to eliminate any wasteful programs."

The subsidy program was created after airlines were deregulated in 1978 to ensure continued service on less profitable routes to remote communities. Not all those communities are remote anymore. The GOP provision would end subsidies to communities less than 90 miles from a hub airport or where subsidies average greater than $1,000 per passenger.

Democrats said the real issue is that Republicans are insisting Democrats accept a host of controversial provisions added to a long-term FAA spending bill approved by the House in April. Among their key differences is a GOP proposal sought by industry that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

The Senate passed its own long-term funding bill in February without the labor provision. Democrats insist the House must drop the provision. They've also accused Republicans of tying the elimination of rural air subsidies to their extension bill as a means to prod Democrats to make concessions on the labor issue.

"House Republicans are nowhere to be found, refusing to come back to the negotiating table after pulling yet another cheap political stunt at the expense of rural Americans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.

The shutdown is costing the FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue because airlines no longer have authority to collect ticket taxes. That money goes into an aviation trust fund. The fund "has a healthy balance now, but that would be depleted in fairly rapid order" without congressional action, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.


Associated Press writers John Flesher in Traverse City, Mich., and Cristina Silva in Las Vegas contributed to this report.