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“Beefed-up” FAA Extension Released, Set for Vote

The House and Senate Committee leadership released the text of a bipartisan FAA extension bill that would fund the agency through the end of FY2017. The legislation authorizes Airport Improvement Program (AIP), Essential Air Service (EAS), FAA Facilities & Equipment (F&E) and other funding at current levels. However, the “beefed-up” extension, as one Senator referred to it, does contain several consensus policy reforms – including NASAO-supported third-class medical reform and standardized covered tower marking requirements. The legislation also, as expected, includes security reform in the wake of the two recent major airport attacks, as well as measures aimed at easing security wait times at airports. The bill also contains several new unmanned aerial system (UAS) safety provisions.

On aviation security, the bill tightens the vetting process for airport employees, and increases the number of bomb-sniffing dogs in and around airports. The bill aims to improve airport screening worldwide by allowing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to donate unneeded equipment to overseas airports with flights directly to the United States. To ease security wait-times, the bill expands the TSA PreCheck program and calls for the Aviation Security Advisory Committee to develop recommendations for more efficient and effective passenger screening processes – including pilot testing and examination of so-called “Checkpoints of the Future” and other design modifications for airport screening areas.

The extension contains several provisions to bolster Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) safety, including a UAS manufacturer requirement to provide safety materials on rules and regulations in product packaging, and stiffened penalties for interference with wildfire suppression efforts. The legislation also provides $6 million to explore technological solutions to prevent UAS from operating too close to airports, and directs the FAA to implement an application process to allow fixed-site facilities, including critical infrastructure and amusement facilities, to be designated as restricted areas for UAS. The legislation also, notably, directs NASA to conduct air-to-air UAS and aircraft collision modeling and testing and report back to Congress, as current risk and safety assessments mostly rely on comparative bird-strike data. The legislation also continues NASA development of an UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system, and requires a report on the potential interoperability of such a system with existing airspace management. Finally, the legislation does not include any language preempting states and localities from establishing or enforcing UAS regulations as was included in the Senate FAA bill.

As mentioned, the bill contains multiple NASAO-supported provisions. The Senate’s previously adopted version of third-class medical reform is included, which allows GA pilots to operate aircraft weighing 6,000 lbs. or less with a valid drivers license, provided that the pilot-in-command has held a valid medical in the previous ten years, and has not received a denial on the last application or an unresolved revocation. Pilots will still be required to undergo a biannual physical from any state-licensed doctor, in lieu of a certified medical examiner, but must complete and submit an FAA prescribed condition checklist to the doctor for review. Pilots will also be required to complete a newly devised online aero medical test every two years, and keep records of both the tests and physicals in their logbooks.

Other NASAO priorities include a provision directing the FAA to establish marking requirements for covered towers between 50 and 200 feet in height in non-urban areas. The legislation also calls for the formation of a “Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities” to, among other things, examine issues to remedy the pilot shortage and to examine the effectiveness of the Essential Air Service (EAS) and Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP). The legislation specifies that “state aviation officials” shall be included on the board.

It’s expected that the extension will be taken up and passed by the House as early as the end of this week, and subsequently by the Senate next week to avoid a lapse in funding prior to the July 15 deadline. NASAO will provide another update upon bill passage, but in the meantime, do not hesitate to reach out with any questions about the contents of the legislation or any other issues.

Categories: News, Uncategorized
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