Long-Stalled Legislation Finally Passes Significant Legislative Hurdle
The U.S. Senate on Monday finally passed the $34.5 billion FAA Reauthorization bill with a unanimous 93-0 vote. The bill funds the FAA through September 2011, and establishes clear deadlines for the adoption of existing NextGen navigation and surveillance technology. For example, the bill requires the development of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) and Area Navigation (RNAV) procedures at the busiest 35 airports by 2014, and for the entire National Airspace System (NAS) by 2018.
The bill directs the FAA to accelerate planned timelines for integrating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology into the NAS, requiring the use of “ADS-B Out” on all aircraft by 2015 and the use of “ADS-B In” on all aircraft by 2018, creates an “Air Traffic Control Modernization Oversight Board” to provide better oversight of FAA’s modernization programs, and establishes a “Chief NextGen Officer” position at FAA to oversee implementation of all NextGen programs, and provide greater accountability over the modernization process.
On the issue of airline safety, the bill mandates that all carriers adopt Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP), Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) programs and Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) programs. It authorizing $8.1 billion to support airport infrastructure through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), requires airlines to examine a pilot’s entire flight history, including previous tests of flying skills, before the pilot is hired and requires air carriers to implement a formal remedial training program for underperforming pilots.
The FAA will have to re-evaluate pilot training and qualification regulations to ensure pilots have the proper skills and experience. Should the FAA fail to do this by the end of 2011, all air carrier pilots will be required to have logged at least 1,500 flight hours before flying an aircraft with paying customers aboard. The FAA is also required to revise the flight and duty time regulations for commercial air carrier pilots and issue the final rule within one year to address pilot fatigue.
The House and Senate funding measures mirror previous modernization proposals in that they increase the general aviation fuel tax from 22 to 36 cents per-gallon to help fund system transformation.
“After so many years of delay, this bill takes significant steps to improve safety and modernize our air transportation system, while supporting jobs and stimulating our economy. I am pleased the Senate moved quickly to approve this critically important legislation,” said Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chair John D. Rockefeller IV.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the committee’s ranking Republican, agreed. “This critical legislation is long overdue,” she said. For too many years, our nation has put off the daunting task of modernizing our country’s antiquated air traffic control system. Modernization of the country’s air traffic is crucial to our economic growth and will move America closer to a more efficient and effective use of our national airspace. This measure will improve the safety of air travel for millions of Americans, and represents an important commitment to the future of aviation in this country.”
Reaction came quickly from several of the nation’s aviation associations.
“NBAA and other general aviation associations have been strong advocates for proposals to modernize the nation’s aviation system, and the action taken by Senate leaders today marks a good step in that direction,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen.
“Importantly, the legislation builds on the fuel tax to help pay for modernization, instead of resorting to user fees,” Bolen said. “This approach is the one uniformly supported by general aviation to help pay for ‘NextGen’.”
Bolen noted that throughout the FAA reauthorization process, NBAA and other general aviation organizations have pointed out that unlike user fees, fuel taxes are paid at the pump, making them an efficient, effective, reliable and environmentally sensible way for those using general aviation aircraft to help pay for FAA funding and infrastructure investments.
“We look forward to working with leaders in both the House and Senate toward passage of final legislation to modernize the nation’s aviation system so that it remains the world’s largest, best and safest,” Bolen concluded.
GAMA issued the following statement upon passage of the bill late Monday afternoon:
“We are extremely pleased with the passage of this bill which takes a number of critical steps needed for the acceleration of NextGen,” said GAMA’s President and CEO, Pete Bunce. “We commend Senators Rockefeller (D-WV), Hutchison (R-TX), Dorgan (D-ND), DeMint (R-SC), Baucus (D-MT) and Grassley (R-IA) for their leadership and dedicated work in reauthorizing and improving FAA programs. We look forward to working with them and the aviation leadership in the House to send a final FAA reauthorization bill to President Obama for his signature.”
National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President James K. Coyne praised the Senate for passing the FAA reauthorization.
“I would like to congratulate the U.S. Senate for approving a two-year FAA reauthorization bill that is void of user fees and that provides a fair jet fuel tax increase,” stated Coyne. “The bill also includes several mandates for accelerated implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). While the House recently approved another extension through July 3, 2010, I am hopeful that a conference committee can be convened as quickly as possible to ensure that a comprehensive bill can finally be approved.”
The bill does differ in some way from the House bill passed last year, and those differences will have to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee.
Source: AERO NEWS