Senate Passes FAA Reauthorization

A controversial effort to privatize ATC was not included in the bill.

US Congress
Legislation passed the Senate by a 93-6 margin.Wikimedia Commons/Ryanx7

Despite years of one short-term resolution after another, the Senate yesterday took a lead from last week's move by the House and passed the FAA reauthorization necessary to carry the agency forward until September 30, 2023. The bill, minus the controversial effort to privatize the nation's air traffic control system, passed with bi-partisan support on a 93 to 6 vote. The bi-partisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee included Chairman John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

A summary of the legislation created by the House and the Senate, said the bill will modernize airport infrastructure, improve customer service, reform the agency's certification and regulatory processes while enhancing aviation safety, promote safe, efficient integration of drones into the national airspace system and also recognizes the benefit of taking action ahead of an industry crisis.

Specifically, it includes a stable funding mechanism for the airport improvement program, while creating a remote air traffic control tower pilot program to deploy new advanced technologies and lower costs of air traffic control services. The new bill allows the FAA to set a minimum seat pitch, width and length on commercial airline flights, while providing the agency with additional tools to mitigate impacts of airport noise, including the establishment of regional ombudsmen, to facilitate greater community involvement. It also requires FAA to review cabin evacuation assumptions to ensure everyone can safely evacuate an airliner in an emergency within the required timeframe, as well as enhancing hot air balloon safety by requiring medical certificates for balloon operators. The agency will continue the BARR program that blocks aircraft tail numbers from general scrutiny online to protect the privacy and security of aircraft operators.

The bill advances low-altitude UAS traffic management (UTM) systems and services, while fostering development of sense-and-avoid and other technologies at UAS test ranges. It also updates the special rule for model aircraft. Both FEMA and the Stafford Act will be reformed by ensuring that a percentage of assistance provided in the wake of disasters is invested in pre-disaster hazard mitigation so that states, tribal and local governments can pre-empt the damage and distress that results from disasters. The legislation also authorizes three years of funding for the Transportation Security Administration.

The bill is expected to increase transparency of the National Transportation Safety Board following safety failures by adding still images to the items the NTSB may disclose during the course of an investigation. It will also enhance public understanding of NTSB’s safety recommendations by requiring a report on the “Most Wanted List” selection process and a methodology section to accompany each recommendation.

The legislation is expected to move to the President’s desk for a signature very soon.