WASHINGTON — Congress capped a year of public concern about airline safety and service Friday by approving legislation that paves the way for $20.1 billion in spending on airports and modern aviation equipment.
The measure, approved 410 to 1 in the House, extends a series of programs by which the federal government provides air traffic controllers and other aviation services and helps communities improve their airports.
It also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to have 15,900 air traffic controllers at work by Sept. 30--about 500 more than are now behind the radar screens. And it orders the FAA to require that within four years airliners carry an instrument that would warn pilots of possible aerial collisions.
The legislation "makes major contributions to improving the safety and efficiency of our air transportation system," said Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-San Jose), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee.
The bill, approved Thursday in the Senate by voice vote, was sent to the White House for President Reagan's expected signature.
Lawmakers have spent much of the year focusing on public complaints about airline service. FAA statistics show a dramatic increase this year in reported near-collisions and in complaints by airline passengers about late and canceled flights and lost baggage.
Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt of Arkansas, senior Republican on the aviation subcommittee, said: "The root cause is failure of our nation's airport and airway system to keep pace with the demands of our passengers and the general aviation system."
Funds for Upgrading Airports
The bill authorizes $8.7 billion in spending over the next five years for airport improvements, an increase of about $700 million a year over current levels.
An additional $5.3 billion could be spent over three years for modern instruments for airport landing systems, new computers and other equipment for air traffic controllers. The bill would allow $5.5 billion in spending during the next three years for salaries of federal aviation workers and $638 million for three years of research.
The money would have to be provided in separate appropriations legislation each year.
The bill extends for three years the 8% tax on passenger tickets and other levies that collect revenues for a special fund the government uses for aviation projects.