In a 351-69 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly passed the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act—a comprehensive bill to fund the FAA and its programs for the next five years.
Among its priorities, the legislation appropriates $4 billion per year for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), addresses air traffic control staffing shortages and the mandatory retirement age of commercial pilots, and provides funding to upgrade the agency’s outdated technology.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced June 9 by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Committee Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves (R-La.), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). It was unanimously approved by the committee on June 14. The bill now heads to the upper chamber. where senators are considering their own FAA reauthorization bill.
“This bipartisan legislation improves the safety of our system, our airport infrastructure, and the quality of service for passengers,” Sam Graves said. “Not only that, [but] this bill will make the FAA more efficient, encourage the safe adoption of new and innovative technologies, and address growing workforce shortages, from pilots and mechanics to air traffic controllers. In addition, this bill provides the first title dedicated specifically to our critical general aviation sector—the backbone of the American aviation system.”
What Was Left Out
Ahead of the House vote, lawmakers spent much of this week hashing through dozens of amendments and weighing some of the bill’s more contentious issues before coming to a final agreement Thursday. Notably absent from the bill is language to transfer the nation’s air traffic control services into a not-for-profit organization. The bill also struck language that would allow simulator time to count toward the 1,500-hour training requirement for aspiring pilots and instead favors retaining current training standards.
A measure aimed at guaranteeing transparent fee structures for transient aircraft parking at public airports, which was strongly backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), was also blocked during the markups. Despite a push from the association and a coalition of more than 600 pilot groups who backed the amendment, it was ultimately struck down because of what AOPA calls “a misinformation campaign spread by FBOs, associations representing airports, and others in Washington, D.C., and across the country.” The National Air Transportation Association strongly opposed the provision noting it “ignores the unique, local operating environments of individual airports, as well as the varied needs and concerns of all stakeholders—airport users, airport businesses, and the airports themselves.”
Pilot Retirement Age
Meanwhile, another hot topic issue to raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67 was ultimately included in the bill. The amendment has drawn strong criticism from the Air Line Pilots Association, which maintains the measure “would only increase costs for airlines and introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike.” Additionally, changing the mandatory age requirement would not comply with ICAO international standards, meaning pilots would not be able to fly internationally—typically what experienced pilots want most.
Still, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act has the support of more than 1,000 aviation leaders and stakeholders.
The Senate Commerce Committee is now expected to consider its version of the reauthorization, which has been stalled due to disagreement over several hot button issues such as pilot training and an amendment to increase the slots for long-haul flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (KDCA) among others.
According to a Politico report, it’s unlikely a vote will take place until after the Senate’s five-week August recess, leaving little time for both chambers to resolve discrepancies between the two bills. FAA reauthorization expires September 30.