House, Senate Accord Clears Path for Massive FAA Bill

 - September 24, 2018, 11:29 AM

A comprehensive five-year FAA reauthorization bill took a significant step forward with the release of a House-Senate compromise package early Saturday morning. The bipartisan agreement, announced jointly by the leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee, clears a path for final passage this week, averting a need for another short-term extension of FAA’s authorization, as many had feared. Congress faces a September 30 deadline before the FAA’s current authorization is set to expire.

“The FAA needs the long-term certainty provided by this bipartisan agreement, and America’s airport infrastructure, air travelers, and innovators across our aerospace industry will benefit from these improvements,” said T&I Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania).  

Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, agreed, saying the bill improves the aviation system for travelers, manufacturer, and innovators, while strengthening safety and security. “I expect the House and Senate will now move quickly to send the president a bill he can sign,” he said.

Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the T&I Committee, added the legislation, the Aviation, Transportation Safety, and Disaster Recovery Reforms and Reauthorization (H.R.302), culminates several weeks of negotiations, providing the FAA long-term funding and addressing numerous aviation issues from consumer protections to drone safety.

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.

Along with keeping the FAA authorized through 2023, the nearly 1,200-page bill contains numerous provisions of importance to the business and general aviation community.

As expected, the controversial measure to reform the nation’s air traffic control organization was left out of the bill. However, bill language does call for a detailed analysis of air traffic control costs imposed and revenues received by the varying segments of airspace users—data that ostensibly could be used in future battles over user fees and ATC privatization/separation. Results of the analysis would be furnished to key tax-writing and authorizing committees on Capitol Hill.

While keeping airport funding levels stable at $3.35 billion, the bill would increase the FAA’s authorized facilities and equipment funding levels by $370 million over the five-year period and provide more than $1 billion in additional authorized funding for the FAA’s operations.

Long-sought after reforms of the FAA’s certification and regulatory processes are included in the bill. These included a streamlining of the certification processes and the creation of a Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee to collaborate with industry on the streamlining and to establish clear performance objectives. Reforms further would improve training for FAA inspectors and engineering and increase the ability to use delegated certification authorizations. The measures further are designed to address delays in foreign certifications.

On the supersonic front, the legislation calls on the FAA to work with industry to develop an “appropriate regulatory framework and timeline for permitting the safe and efficient operation of civil supersonic aircraft within U.S. airspace.” Further, the FAA would be required to address certification of supersonic aircraft, as well as special flight authorizations.

Other measures would seek to improve Part 135 safety data and establish an aviation rulemaking committee to strengthen Part 135 pilot and flight attendant rest and duty rules. A mandatory review of reports of illegal charter flights is also included in the bill.

As far as flight-sharing, the bill includes the compromise provision that directs the FAA to develop clear guidance on when flight and cost sharing would be appropriate and further would seek a Government Accountability Office study on federal policy. However, the bill stops short of changing definitions of a pilot or of commercial operations to accommodate such activity, as sought by flight-sharing advocates.

Also, the FAA would be required to develop a plan to address potential ADS-B compliance by the 2020 mandate. Cybersecurity is addressed in measures calling on the FAA to consider avionics security mandates, as well as review its own cybersecurity plan.

H.R.302 directs the creation of a task force to come up with recommendations to ease the regulatory burdens and costs and improve safety for aircraft operated under Part 91. The aircraft registry would also be shielded from temporary federal funding lapses.

Among the myriad reports required is a review of the burdens imposed by temporary flight restrictions and recommendations for easing those burdens. The bill further eliminates air traffic services fee at events such as the annual EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

FAA organizational and civil registry reforms are addressed, as well as progress updates of NextGen and airspace modernization. A pilot project would be created to provide preferential air traffic services for aircraft with certain equipment that accommodates NextGen. Mandatory use of the New York North Shore Helicopter Route would come under review, as would the possibility of a Stage 3 aircraft phaseout.

H.R.302 seeks to strengthen pilot legal protections through an expansion of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, as well as improvements in Notam updates.

A number of measures were included designed to facilitate safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems, as well as to address the future of the aviation workforce. Commercial airline customer service directives range from a directive for minim pitch and width requirements for passenger seats to a prohibition of involuntary bumping of passengers already boarded.