House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) on Tuesday highlighted the compromises of his five-year comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill, but stressed the need for the Senate to act on it to preserve the long-term stability of the agency.
In what was likely his final address before the Aero Club of Washington as T&I chair, Shuster, who is to retire at the end of the year, emphasized the need for the aviation community to work together to ensure the future leadership of U.S. in the aviation and aerospace fields. The first step toward this, he said in prepared remarks, is completing work on the FAA reauthorization bill.
“This bipartisan, five-year bill is important to millions of Americans who work in aviation, and to hundreds of millions of people who fly every year,” he said, noting the House passed the bill in April by a 393-13 vote. “The Senate now needs to act so that we can move forward and send a bill to the President’s desk.”
The FAA is operating on a fifth authorization extension since the last reauthorization bill was passed in 2012. And the 2012 law required 23 short-term extensions before it was passed. “Extensions, budgetary uncertainty, and constantly planning for—or going through—a government shutdown are harmful to the FAA and the industry,” he said. “These factors hamper the ability to plan for the long term, they impact the ability to carry out those plans, and they cost money.”
But an “increasingly polarized Washington” makes it difficult for long-term initiatives, he said, adding it was this uncertainty that drove his support for air traffic control reform. To him it was an opportunity to separate operation and modernization of the system from the budget process, bureaucracy, and “political dysfunction,” he said.
“I still strongly believe that someday soon, Congress must pass real ATC reform," he said. "I believe it’s the only thing that will allow the U.S. to preserve its global leadership in aviation, something that is already slipping away.” But Shuster acknowledged FAA reorganization supporters “couldn’t push it over the goal line.”
Even without the ATC proposal, Shuster said the remaining bill contains important reforms and “our bipartisan FAA bill is an opportunity to prevent this kind of instability for the next several years.”
The bill, H.R.4, would improve the certification process, provide more regulatory certainty, promote expanded use of delegated authority, pave the way for increased collaboration between government and industry, and boost FAA leadership abroad, he said.
Another key area, he said, is drones. “With tens of billions of dollars in drone-related investments on the horizon, our regulations must keep up with technology and other countries that are working to take leadership in this area.”
He pointed to numerous other aspects of the bill including a number of safety initiatives, reiterating this is yet another reason why the Senate should act on the bill.
Shuster, quoting once again a line from the Rolling Stones that “you can’t always get what you want” (he noted he used that quote during his last appearance before the Aero Club three years ago), acknowledged that the bill does not have everything everyone wants. But he also pointed to the continuation of the famed Rolling Stones song that “you get what you need.”
He continued, “That’s the way the legislative process works,” adding that the bill is “what our aviation system needs right now.”
As for when the Senate might act, Shuster is unsure. Lawmakers in that chamber were hoping to wade through the amendments and bring it to the floor under a short debate schedule, perhaps next week.