* Bill would speed up air traffic modernization
* Private aviation fuel taxes would go up
* Passenger rights provisions on delays would become law
WASHINGTON, March 22 The U.S. Senate approved a
sweeping aviation blueprint on Monday that accelerates the
multibillion dollar overhaul of the air traffic control
The air traffic measure was included in legislation for
reestablishing aviation programs run by the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) through 2011.
The bill was approved 93-0.
It increases fuel taxes on private aircraft, including
business jets, to 36 cents per gallon from 22 cents to help pay
for shifting the aging radar-based air traffic network to one
relying on satellites.
Supporters say the modernization will move planes more
efficiently and save money on fuel. The government estimates
the overhaul will cost more than $20 billion through 2025.
"Passing this legislation means that our aviation industry
will have the tools necessary to grow," said Byron Dorgan,
chairman of the Senate's aviation subcommittee.
Details of a final FAA bill must be hammered out by
negotiators from the Senate and the House of Representatives,
which has approved a similar version.
Other provisions of the Senate bill upgrade safety.
Changes also include strengthening crew training at small
airlines, and require clearer disclosure about which feeder
carriers are operating flights. Those changes stemmed from a
2009 crash near Buffalo, New York in which all 50 passengers
and crew died.
The bill also requires more frequent inspections of
overseas repair stations, where many major airlines send
planes for regular maintenance.
The Senate bans pilots from using wireless devices or
laptops in the cockpit that are unrelated to work. That change
stems from an October incident when a Northwest Airlines flight
overflew its destination by more than 100 miles.
Investigators concluded the pilots were reviewing work
schedules on a laptop computer during the flight to Minneapolis
and lost track of time and their location. The plane landed
The Senate bill also puts into law regulatory requirements
that airlines give passengers the option - in most
circumstances -- of exiting an aircraft after a three-hour
The so-called passenger bill of rights provisions also
require carriers provide adequate food, water and restroom
facilities during delays.
"Airline passengers can now be assured that they no longer
will become prisoners in the event of a lengthy delay, nor will
their safety be compromised to meet an airlines bottom line,"
said Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, a co-author of rights
The House bill increases fees paid by passengers for
airport improvements, and contains a contentious labor
provision that would make it easier for ground workers at FedEx
Corp (FDX.N) to unionize.
(Reporting by John Crawley)