The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee yesterday unveiled its version of a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill that touches upon many of the themes of the House version, but omits the controversial proposal to create an independent organization to run the nation’s air traffic control system, which has appeared to stall the House bill.
Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) joined the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), in introducing the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016. The senators indicated plans to formally consider the bill on March 16.
The bill would cover the FAA’s authorization only through the end of Fiscal Year 2017—unlike the six-year authorization proposed by the House—but contains a number of key provisions of interest to general aviation, including certification reforms, increased airports funding, requirements for small tower marking, protections for the unleaded aviation fuel transition and the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 with third-class medical reform. It also addresses safety and privacy issues surrounding unmanned aircraft systems and calls for measures to mitigate risk and improve NextGen transition management.
“This is a good starting place for both parties to come together and hopefully get something passed,” said Nelson in announcing the bill.
The short reauthorization period means the debate would renew next year, opening the door for continued negotiations on the privatization proposal that was the cornerstone of the reauthorization plan forwarded by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).
“The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to make our skies safer, promote responsible drone usage, make economically significant aerospace manufacturing reforms and adopt beneficial new protections for the flying public,” said Thune. “I look forward to working with [Shuster]…to find common ground with his innovative proposal.”
Shuster praised the release of the bill and noted successes he had in working with his Senate counterparts in the past. “I look forward to continuing our work and building upon our previous successes by completing an FAA bill that provides critical reforms for the FAA and the nation’s aviation system.”
General aviation groups were encouraged by many of the provisions in the Senate bill. “This bill includes meaningful reforms that the general aviation community wants and needs—especially changes to the third-class medical and the aircraft certification process,” said Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Mark Baker. “Senator John Thune has been a strong supporter of general aviation and we hope the Senate will move quickly to pass this legislation.”
General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce added, “These reforms are ready to go and give the FAA strong legislative direction so that manufacturers will be better able to get innovative, safety-enhancing technologies into their customers’ hands.”