Now Law, Five-Year FAA Bill Paves Way for Industry Stability

 - October 5, 2018, 4:14 PM

U.S. President Donald Trump Friday afternoon signed into law the sweeping Federal Aviation Administration funding bill, providing one of the longest reauthorization periods for the agency since the 1980s and addressing a range of issues from consumer protections and regulation reform to the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems. The enactment of the legislation into law comes as the agency’s authorization approached expiration on Friday under a one-week extension Congress approved in late September.

Passage of the Aviation, Transportation Safety, and Disaster Recovery Reforms and Reauthorization (H.R.302) ended a four-plus-year process that involved six short-term extensions, several versions of the bill, hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill, dozens of hearings, and one of the most contentious debates surrounding the future of the air traffic control organization.

The bill, which provides for up to $96.7 billion for the FAA through 2023, streamlines the passenger facility charge (PFC) application process and eases certain restrictions on its use. But it stops short of raising the PFC caps, despite a strong push by the airports.

The bill also calls for a number of consumer protections, including a directive for the FAA to set minimum pitch, width, and length requirements for airline passenger seats, as well as a prohibition from involuntarily bumping passengers who have already boarded. Another provision would create an Aviation Consumer Advocate at the Department of Transportation to help work through consumer complaints.

Other measures involve directives surrounding the return of fees, a prohibition of cell phone use in-flight, a requirement for nursing rooms at large and medium airports, and requirements for communications in case of system outages.

Authors designed a number of measures to streamline and improve the certification and regulatory processes, including those involving international validations. Others addressed workforce shortages, improve safety, and facilitate NextGen advancements.

H.R.302 combines several bills in addition to the massive FAA reauthorization, including the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, a three-year Transportation Security Administration reauthorization, and a four-year National Transportation Safety Board reauthorization. It also encompasses sports medicine licensing, the BUILD Act, a Syria assessment, emerging threats, and supplemental disaster relief.

But perhaps most notable is the legislation that didn’t appear: the measure strongly backed by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster and Airlines for America (A4A) that would create an independent, user-funded air traffic control organization.

After a hard-fought battle to salvage the proposal, Shuster agreed to drop it in an effort to ensure passage of FAA reauthorization.

A4A continues to support the concept, believing it would provide for long-term continuity of ATC funding and better enable the implementation of key modernization projects. Even so, the association lauded the bill as passed.

“We applaud the bipartisan, bicameral efforts in Congress,” the association said when the compromise bill was released. “This measure will provide long-term certainty for the millions of passengers and countless businesses that rely on access to safe, affordable travel and shipping options every day.” A4A added that the legislation delivers certainty to employers, manufacturers, consumers, and communities.

Support came from other segments of the industry: Aeronautical Repair Station Association executive v-p Christian Klein called passage a “historic achievement for Congress” and National Air Traffic Controllers Association president Paul Rinaldi called the legislation a key part of providing long-term stability for the FAA.

However, a few provisions raised concern with Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations president Lee Collins, who expressed disappointment that it did not address issues surrounding pilot fatigue and rest rules for cargo carriers and foreign flag carrier ability to obtain “flags of convenience” certificates to operate in the U.S.

“We are concerned that both of these undermine U.S. airline safety standards,” Collins said.

However, Air Line Pilots Association president Tim Canoll praised the omission of one of the other major sticking points of the bill—an effort to provide an alternative path to the 1,500-hour requirement for co-pilots with training credits. While supported by senator John Thune (R-S.D.), he agreed to drop the measure to secure Senate approval of the FAA reauthorization bill.