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Senate Unveils FAA Reauthorization Bill; Short-term Extension is Imminent

The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee released a bipartisan FAA bill –the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658)–which does not include an overhaul of the air traffic control system. Notably, the measure would only be in effect until the end of FY2017, shorter than the typical three-year span for FAA reauthorizations and significantly shorter than the six-year length of the House bill. Senate Democrats on the Committee reportedly favored a shorter bill to allow them to “revisit” several issues that are not fully addressed in the bill, sooner rather than later. The Commerce Committee is expected to markup the legislation this Wednesday, with the goal of full Senate consideration in April.

With current authority set to expire at the end of March, at least one more short-term extension is now imminent. Today, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) introduced a “clean” bill to extend the authorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs through July 15, 2016. Both chambers are expected to pass the measure and send it to the President prior to the end of the month to avoid an authorization lapse that would cost the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) up to $30 million per day in lost tax collections.

The Senate bill contains many, but not all, NASAO supported priorities-including an expansion of the State Block Grant Program, aircraft certification reform, Federal Contract Tower protections, the establishment of uniform tower-marking requirements, third-class medical reform, an increase in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding levels from $3.35 to $3.75 Billion for FY2017, sustained funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) and an increase in funding for the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP)-from $6 to $10 million. The bill does not include an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) or Non-Primary Entitlement (NPE) reform. NASAO will continue to pursue NPE reform via the amendment process as work continues with other industry stakeholders to refine a consensus reform approach.

S. 2658 would also create a Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities, which would include a representation of state aviation officials to, among other things, “consider potential improvements in pilot training and any constraints affecting pilot career pathways that, if addressed, would increase both aviation safety and pilot supply” and to “identify initiatives to help support pilot training to provide air transportation service to small communities.” Although not directly addressed in the bill, NASAO continues to urge for consideration and approval of the Regional Airline Association’s (RAA) Air Carrier Enhancement Pilot Training Program (ACE) to provide an additional viable and effective alternative pathway for more pilots to obtain a restricted ATP and safely fly for the airlines.

There are several Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) provisions contained in the bill aimed at enhancing safety and accountability through a combination of education and training, enforcement and increased utilization of technologies to manage UAS traffic and detect these systems around airports. The legislation specifically directs the FAA to work with NASA to implement a pilot project for the unmanned traffic management (UTM) system under development and also to establish a pilot project for airports to utilize systems to detect and intercept nearby drones. The bill also calls for the FAA to create a requisite UAS specific-knowledge test, and would require manufacturers to include additional UAS education and safety materials in product packaging. The bill continues authorization of the six approved test sites and gives explicit authority to the FAA to approve rules that would allow nighttime and beyond-line-of-sight operations.

The full text of S. 2658 can be viewed by clicking here and a section-by-section overview can be viewed by clicking here. NASAO will continue to provide updates as consideration of this legislation moves forward.

Categories: News, Uncategorized
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