FAA Reauthorization Nears Finish Line in Congress

 - February 2, 2012, 10:03 PM
FAA reauthorization legislation calls for an ADS-B 'In' mandate by 2020, contradicting an aviation rulemaking committee recommendation to FAA. (Courtesy: Honeywell)

Passage of long-delayed FAA reauthorization legislation appeared imminent after U.S. House and Senate negotiators compromised January 31 on a four-year, $63 billion bill to fund the agency through Fiscal Year 2015. The House approved the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act on February 3, and the Senate expected to vote on the bill Monday. (The Senate approved bill February 6. —Ed.) The legislation provides the FAA’s first multi-year reauthorization since September 2007.

Before negotiators agreed on the compromise legislation, House and Senate leaders resolved a dispute over union organizing that had posed a longstanding obstacle to reauthorization. They also agreed to continue funding the Essential Air Service, a federal program that subsidizes airline service to lightly used, mainly rural airports targeted by the House for cancellation in the lower 48 states. The reauthorization bill “eliminates the most egregious subsidies,” according to Florida Republican Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Notably, the legislation calls for the FAA Administrator within one year to initiate a rulemaking process that would require all aircraft operating within capacity-constrained airspace to equip for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) ‘In’ capability to receive and display air traffic targets in the cockpit by 2020. That contradicts the advice of an aviation rulemaking committee that studied ADS-B In for more than a year and recommended against a mandate at this time due to the costs airlines would have to incur.

Among other provisions, the legislation prohibits the secretary of transportation from issuing any regulation on the carriage of lithium batteries “whether transported separately or packed with or contained in equipment” that exceeds current hazardous materials requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). That comes as a disappointment to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which considers potentially flammable lithium batteries a major safety issue. “Clearly we would like to see a little bit more stringent regulations built into the legislation, but it does take a step forward,” said Capt. Sean Cassidy, ALPA first vice president, during a February 2 briefing. According to Mica, the provision “limits efforts by the Obama Administration to over-regulate the lithium battery industry.” 

The legislation contains “sense of the Congress” language describing the European emissions trading scheme as a contravention of the 1944 Chicago Convention that created ICAO, as well as other international agreements. It says the secretary of transportation and FAA Administrator “should use all political, diplomatic and legal tools at the disposal of the United States to ensure that the European Union’s emissions trading scheme is not applied to aircraft registered by the United States or the operators of those aircraft.”