Biden seeks new funding for air traffic controllers, Amtrak

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Monday released details on a new proposal calling for more funding for more air traffic controllers and to speed modernization efforts after a computer outage led to the first nationwide flight grounding since 2001.

The Transportation Department’s $108.5 billion budget request seeks funding from Congress, including $117 million to hire another 1,800 air traffic controllers in addition to another 1,500 being hired this year.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said last year the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had 1,500 fewer controllers than in 2011.

The FAA wants $115 million to accelerate National Airspace System Modernization saying it will allow the agency “flexibility to adjust to current events in operations and increase capital investments where needed.”

A computer system outage disrupted 11,000 U.S. flights in January after contract personnel “unintentionally deleted files.”

The Transportation Department wants $3.1 billion in annual funding for passenger railroad Amtrak on top of $4.4 billion in funding from the $1 trillion 2021 infrastructure law. It also seeks $700 million for a key New York Hudson River tunnel project.

In a letter released Friday, Airlines for America, the Air Line Pilots Association, Aerospace Industries Association and others wrote Congress raising “growing concerns about the urgent need for additional human and technological resources.” They added “missed certification deadlines, controller staffing shortages, and slow modernization demonstrate that the FAA is not keeping up with the growing needs and complexity of our aviation system.”

The FAA declined comment.

The FAA wants $24 million to fund 50 new test pilots, data scientists, safety inspectors and others to oversee Boeing and other airplane manufacturers. The FAA says it has 107 full-time staff members providing Boeing regulatory oversight, up from 82.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants $25.7 million for “automation safety” for expanded rulemaking, enforcement and research; and $12 million for research on Automated Driving Systems as it scrutinizes self-driving vehicles and driver assistance systems.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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