WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — The Senate has passed a $105 billion bill designed to improve safety and customer service for air travelers, a day before the previous law governing the Federal Aviation Administration expires.

Specifications in the bipartisan bill are intended to boost the number of air traffic controllers amid a current staffing shortage, improve safety standards and make it easier for customers to get refunds after flights are delayed or canceled.

After passing the legislation on an 88-4 vote, the Senate passed a one-week extension to ensure that the law doesn’t expire before the House considers the bill next week. The FAA said it would have had to furlough around 3,600 workers if the law expired at midnight Friday.

The bill stalled for several days this week after senators from Virginia and Maryland objected to a provision that would allow an additional 10 flights a day at Reagan Washington National Airport. Other senators tried to add unrelated provisions, well. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called a vote Thursday evening after it became clear that senators would not be able to agree on amendments to the bill before the law expired.

The Senate then passed the one-week extension that the House had already passed, sending that to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill “gives the FAA the stability it needs to fulfill its primary mission — advancing aviation safety — while also making travel more convenient and accessible,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Some of the specifications:

  • New planes must have cockpit voice recorders capable of saving 25 hours of audio, up from the current two hours, to help investigators after safety incidents.
  • Airlines must pay refunds to customers without the paperwork of requesting it, applicable to a three-hour delay for domestic flights and six-hour delay for international flights.
  • Airlines would not be allowed to charge extra for families to sit together.
  • The Transportation Department is to create a “dashboard” so consumers can compare seat sizes on different airlines.
  • New training standards will be imposed for airline personnel who handle and store wheelchairs.

The House had passed its own version of the FAA legislation without additional Reagan National flights after intense, last-minute lobbying from the Virginia delegation — a bipartisan vote on an amendment to the FAA bill that saw members aligning not by party but geographic location. Lawmakers use the airport frequently because it is the closest Washington airport to the Capitol, and Congress has long tried to have a say in which routes have service there.

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