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Senate Commerce Committee Advances FAA Reauthorization to Full Senate

The Senate Commerce Committee passed their version of the FAA reauthorization in a markup on March 16th after swiftly adopting 52 amendments en bloc at the very beginning of the session-and a handful of others that were offered and voted on individually thereafter. The measure will now move to the full Senate, with Chairman John Thune (R-SD) aiming for floor consideration soon after the Senate returns  on April 4 from a scheduled two-week recess.

The bill advances with several key NASAO-supported provisions intact-including a $400 million increase in authorized Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for FY2017, third-class medical reform, aircraft certification reform, streamlining of the PFC, Federal Contract Tower Program protections and an expansion of the State Block Grant Program.  No amendment was offered to increase the PFC after the Committee decided to forgo including a $2 increase in the base bill. NASAO continues to work with industry stakeholders on refining a consensus approach to reform the non-primary entitlement (NPE) program looking toward a potential floor amendment.

The Committee passed two significant amendments related to unmanned aerial systems (UAS)-one that would require operators to publically disclose the type of personal data they collect and another that directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a final rule within two years to create a “small UAS air carrier certificate” for UAS package delivery services in development by companies such as Amazon and Google. Senator Richard Blumenthal did not offer amendments to the UAS state and local preemption clause during the markup but is working with NASAO, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and other stakeholders on a floor amendment to rework the provision to preserve the traditional authority of states.

Other adopted amendments included a requirement for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to provide security screening at small airports that lost commercial air service after 2013 and expect to regain service, an amendment to require a study of the impact of the loss of Contract Weather Observers at 57 airports, and an amendment to, upon request, block private aircraft tail numbers from public display by the FAA.

Given that the current authorization for the FAA expires on March 31, the Senate is expected to take up the recently passed House short-term extension that lasts until mid-July in the next couple of days-allowing more time for both chambers to pass a long-term bill. Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) reiterated today his doubts about the likelihood of including the House’s air traffic control overhaul in the final package-as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) continues to work on advancing reform through the House. If the Senate passes the measure approved today by committee, the House can either take up the bill as is or pass their own version of the bill and request a conference to settle this and other differences.

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