WASHINGTON — Congress passed an aviation bill Wednesday that attempts to close gaps in airport security and shorten screening lines but leaves thornier issues unresolved.
The bill also extends the Federal Aviation Administration’s programs for 14 months at current funding levels. It was approved in the Senate, 89 to 4. The House had passed the measure earlier in the week and it now goes to President Obama, who must sign the bill by Friday, when the FAA’s operating authority expires to avoid a partial agency shutdown.
Responding to attacks by extremists associated with the Islamic State group on airports in Brussels and Istanbul, the bill includes provisions aimed at protecting ‘‘soft targets’’ outside security perimeters. Other provisions would toughen vetting of airport workers and other employees with access to secure areas, expand random employee inspections, and require reviews of perimeter security. Investigators suspect a bomb had been smuggled aboard a Russian airliner that disintegrated over Egypt last year.
The measure is the most significant airport security bill to pass Congress in a decade, and its provisions ‘‘speak directly to some of the gaps that we perceive to exist in our aviation system in this country,’’ said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
But it also is notable for what it doesn’t contain: a plan to remove air traffic control operations from the FAA and put them with a private, non-profit corporation run primarily by the aviation industry.
Representative Bill Shuster, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the airline industry have made privatizing air traffic control a top priority. But they ran into opposition from other powerful committee chairmen who don’t want to cede oversight responsibility for a large share of the nation’s aviation system to a private corporation. Other segments of the aviation industry also objected to the plan, saying they feared the corporation would be dominated by airline interests.
Airlines say privatization is needed because the FAA’s culture is too slow to complete the system’s transition from old radar technology to satellites.
The bill also requires the Transportation Security Administration to ensure PreCheck screening lanes are open during high-volume times. It includes several consumer protections. Airlines would have to refund checked bag fees to passengers whose luggage is lost or is delayed 12 hours or more for domestic flights or 15 hours or more for overseas flights.