House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee leaders on April 13 re-introduced a revised FAA reauthorization bill that is absent the air traffic control organization reform measure that had been a stumbling block to the comprehensive aviation legislation. The new bill, which was jointly introduced and supported by both Republican and Democratic leaders on the committee, would reauthorize FAA programs for five years and address a range of aviation safety and technology advancement issues.
The bill could reach the House floor for a vote next week. While the bill is revised to account for the shelving of the ATC provision and includes a few other new measures, House leaders have indicated a desire to limit amendments and controversial measures in particular to smooth the path for the bill to passage.
The revised bill was introduced as H.R.4 and packaged with the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), which is designed to help communities to prepare for and respond to disasters.
“Our aviation system is essential to our economy and to the American way of life,” said T&I chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) in introducing the bill. “This bill provides many important reforms that will help U.S. manufacturers and job creators lead in a very competitive global marketplace. This legislation ensures long-term investment and stability in aviation infrastructure for America’s large, small, and rural communities, and it addresses issues to help maintain the safety of our system.”
Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), who had been a chief opponent to the ATC measure in earlier FAA reauthorization, added, “I’m glad we finally had the opportunity to come together and introduce a bipartisan, long-term FAA reauthorization bill, a bill that gives the FAA long-term funding it needs to do its job and includes mandates to improve aviation safety, to continue leading the world in aviation research and innovation, and to make needed and targeted reforms to critical aviation programs.”
The bill would authorize a $3.35 billion airports budget each year through Fiscal Year 2023, scale up facilities and equipment funding from $2.92 billion this year to $3.26 billion in Fiscal Year 2023, and gradually increase the FAA’s operations account to as much as $11.329 billion by 2023 (about $1.1 billion more than Fiscal Year 2018 levels).
Aside from funding levels, the bill address myriad issues. While the legislation would not alter the ATC organization, it does seek biennial studies on the costs incurred in air traffic services by each user segment. Such studies in past have been used to justify proposed changes in the ATC organization and proposals to shift the amounts users pay into the system.
On the environmental front, the bill seeks a Government Accountability Office study of the benefits, costs, and other impacts of a phaseout of Stage 3 aircraft. General aviation operators, along with commercial operators, would be included in the study.
The bill further would call for a study on the potential health effects of aircraft noise, including sleep disturbance and elevated blood pressure. This study is to look at high-impact areas such as in California and New York. It further seeks community involvement in FAA NextGen projects in metroplexes. And it would facilitate use of unleaded aviation gasoline.
As anticipated, the bill would address FAA certification reform, creating an advisory committee to conduct a comprehensive review to advise on policies that are affecting certification. In addition, the bill would direct the FAA to establish performance objectives and track metrics related to aircraft certification activities and provide for fuller use of organization designation authorization. The bill seeks similar reforms for the FAA’s Flight Standards Service.
Along with certification reform within the U.S., the bill seeks to smooth the process for U.S. product validations internationally, directing the FAA to promote U.S. aerospace standards and easing the ability to accept foreign safety directives.
In addition to the broad reforms, the bill would seek a comprehensive reform and streamlining of Part 91 through the input of a government/industry task force. Noncommercial general aviation aircraft registration would be extended to 10 years and the aircraft registry would be shielded from closure during a government shutdown.
The bill looks to accommodate a number of new technologies through directives for studies, including on advanced cockpit displays such as synthetic and enhanced vision systems and on supersonic flight. In addition, provisions call for a joint research program with NASA on single-pilot cargo operations and for a new rule authorizing the carriage of property by small unmanned aircraft systems for compensation or hire. Also on the emerging technology front, the bill would establish a remote tower pilot program for rural and small communities.
Further, the bill has a section focused solely on unmanned operations and a roadmap for their safe integration into the National Airspace System.
In the safety arena the bill seeks to support voluntary safety disclosure programs for both operations and maintenance activities, and also would create a formal aviation rulemaking committee to develop recommendations for Part 135 flight and duty time regulations.
Several of the measures are aimed at workforce shortage issues, including a study on maintenance industry technician shortages, opportunities for women in aviation, and the aviation and aerospace workforce of the future.
Other measures seek clearer guidance on pilots sharing flight expenses with passengers and to permanently protect the privacy of operators who want to shield their registration number from real-time public flight tracking. Congress focuses on the growing concerns surrounding cybersecurity with a mandate to review FAA’s activities and plans in this arena. Among the many other provisions is a section on improving airline customer service.
“This FAA authorization is the culmination of years of hearings and listening sessions to solicit input from aviation stakeholders, commercial passengers, general aviation pilots, and our colleagues,” said Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. “In the truest sense, this legislation represents bipartisan cooperation and compromise to advance the nation’s aviation interests and safety in the skies.”
Rick Larsen (D-Washington), the ranking Democrat on the aviation committee, also expressed support for the bill, and said, “With this continued commitment to bipartisanship, the difference between the House and the Senate bills is now merely inches apart.”