AAI Corp.'s recent contract to produce electronic equipment used to measure airport weather conditions was up in the air itself yesterday when it got caught in a technical hitch during congressional budget squabbles.
The problem stemmed from language in the budget law passed last October that prohibits the Department of Transportation from entering into multi-year contracts exceeding $100 million without specific authorization from Congress.
That clause was overlooked last month in the negotiations that led to AAI being awarded an $18.9 million contract -- the first phase of a contract that is expected to total $211 million over five years -- to produce the Automated Surface Observing System.
The system would note weather conditions at an airport and pass the information on to pilots preparing to land.
The contract was awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Commerce Department, but much of the equipment, valued at $122 million, was to go to the Federal Aviation Administration, which comes under the Transportation Department.
The battle to correct the technical violation of the law is being led by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who said yesterday that the contract is important to AAI, which is based in Cockeysville, and important to improving safety at U.S. airports.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the ASOS program, but its counterpart in the House has not. The Senate-House conference committee is expected to discuss the matter today.