Discussions are under way that could significantly change the prospects for passing the first FAA reauthorization bill since the last one expired in 2007.

Lawmakers may remove a toxic labor provision from the FAA bill and offer an amended version as a standalone bill, confirms Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), ranking Democrat of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee.

The House version of the FAA reauthorization bill would alter National Mediation Board (NMB) rules so they would count nonvoting workers as no votes in elections to form unions.

The compromise would remove the NMB provision from the FAA bill and instead create new legislation that would make it just as easy for workers to unionize as it would for workers to dissolve unions. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the full committee in the House, describes the proposal as “equal in, equal out.”

The NMB provision has been cited as the key obstacle to passing the FAA bill. Also, during the summer, lawmakers fought over the process of how a change to a subsidy for rural airports was inserted into the 22nd extension of the FAA’s operating authority. But Mica told airport executives in July that he had amended the extension in order to coax negotiators back into discussions on the labor matter.

“It’s just a tool to try to motivate some action to get this resolved,” Mica said at the time, adding that it was being handled by congressional leaders.

Removal of the NMB provision points to an improvement in the bill’s prospects, but uncertainty remains. Even though lawmakers are discussing this way forward, it might not come to pass. And it’s not certain that even if the NMB provision is removed, the bill will clear both chambers in a contentious legislative session.

Costello points out that a handful of issues that have been major sticking points in past years still remain. They include the number of slots available for long-haul flights into Reagan Washington National Airport.

The talks moved forward after Mica’s counterpart in the Senate, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on Nov. 14 implored the aviation industry to advocate more aggressively for an FAA reauthorization bill, which he feared was in danger of failing to pass at all and was again falling apart over small-bore issues.

“We stand on the precipice of losing another FAA reauthorization bill,” Rockefeller told an Aero Club of Washington luncheon audience Nov. 14. Without an agreement on the overall bill, “I believe it will be some time before an FAA reauthorization package will pass any Congress,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller noted meetings were scheduled that week to “work out problems,” but he was concerned that key parties would “have almost nothing to say to each other.”

Without naming the issues specifically, Rockefeller alluded to the NMB stalemate. This kind of single-issue difficulty has plagued the bill through successive Congresses, Rockefeller says. “It’s some very set-in-their-ways people looking at everyone and thinking not at all about the future of aviation … but thinking about their particular theologies,” he says.

Both chairmen of their respective transportation panels have been urging passage of a full FAA reauthorization, rather than a 23rd extension, highlighting the importance of funding and authorization for the NextGen ATC system. Without a strong industry push for an FAA bill, Congress will lack the will to act on aviation matters, Rockefeller adds.

The latest extension, passed in August, is set to expire Jan. 31.