The U.S. Senate today passed the sweeping five-year FAA reauthorization bill, sending the measure to the White House for signature and enactment. Today’s vote culminated 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.
Ultimately that process led to bipartisan legislation that passed the House last week by a 398-23 vote and the Senate by 93-6 and has broad support from most corners of the industry. Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) praised its passage, noting it is the longest FAA authorization to be adopted since the 1980s and adding it represents "our collective effort" and bipartisan negotiation. The bill provides for long-term funding for the FAA—up to $96.7 billion through 2023—and touches upon numerous issues of importance to the industry, from certification and regulation to the enabling of the future of supersonic travel and the facilitating of an emergence of a range of new electrical and autonomous systems.
More specific to the business aviation community, it delves into issues surrounding Part 135 flight and duty time and accident data, the protection of the aircraft registry from the whims of the budget process, and a review of flight-sharing regulations, among many others.
But perhaps most important on the FAA front is what is missing from the bill: the proposal to carve the ATC organization out of the U.S. FAA and into an independent, user-funded entity. “This bill will provide a stable path forward for the FAA without controversial proposals to privatize our nation's ATC system,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, hailing its passage. “It is imperative that the agency be allowed to focus on modernization of our National Airspace System without distractions.”
Unveiled jointly by House and Senate leaders in the early hours of September 22, the compromise bill, the Aviation, Transportation Safety, and Disaster Recovery Reforms and Reauthorization (H.R.302), encompasses far more than just FAA issues. It also includes reauthorizations for the National Transportation Safety Board and Transportation Security Administration and further encompasses issues such as sports medicine licensing and disaster relief.