Facing a September 30 deadline, lawmakers quickly returned their focus to FAA reauthorization once the 114th Congress convened earlier this month. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee leaders scheduled their first hearing on reauthorization in late January, picking up from an initial hearing held in November.
T&I chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has repeatedly emphasized that he does not want a repeat of the 23-short-term extensions that occurred in the past reauthorization cycle. To pave the way for a smoother process, T&I leaders had met privately with industry over the past year before beginning the public hearings.
Shuster told attendees at the most recent NBAA Convention that he wanted all affected stakeholders to have a spot at the negotiating table, including general aviation, and later emphasized during the November hearing, “FAA reauthorization needs to be done together.”
Shuster has not yet set a timetable for the bill, and he must juggle a busy reauthorization year that also is expected to include comprehensive highway and Amtrak bills. The FAA will compete for attention both on the House and Senate floors and in the authorizing committees. However, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen noted that sometimes the busier the agenda, the quicker the accomplishments.
William Deere, NATA senior vice present for government and external affairs, noted that the Pennsylvania lawmaker has the skills to push through contentious bills. “Shuster is a savvy leader,” Deere said, citing as an example the recent water resources bill, which historically has been among the more divisive issues. Shuster was able to shepherd the water resources bill through the House with just three “no” votes.
A simple, straightforward reauthorization bill could happen fairly quickly, Rich Swayze, FAA assistant administrator for policy, international affairs and environment, told an Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) symposium in December. But a more ambitious bill, one that seeks dramatic change, could take some time, he said.
Shuster also has said he is pushing for a reauthorization that is “transformational.” During the November hearing, he stressed, “All options are on the table.”
Industry stakeholders already have begun discussions about FAA air traffic management reform and potential privatization. FAA reform and funding emerged as key issues during the initial T&I FAA reauthorization hearing in November and continued through the ALPA symposium.
While FAA funding has been a recurring theme for decades, industry groups are entering this reauthorization debate with a desire to work together, rather than engaging in the rhetoric wars that fueled the lengthy delays and numerous extensions of the last bill.
While acknowledging the collaborative spirit, GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce said the general aviation community would take a stand against any potentially harmful proposal that surfaces, such as user fees. Bunce, however, believes that the committee will first try to iron out the issues where there is agreement. The first reauthorization hearing of this year was scheduled on reforming and streamlining the FAA’s certification processes. Other issues could include unmanned aerial systems, aircraft noise, data security, NextGen, FAAfacility consolidation and general aviation airport funding.
Asked what the FAA would like to see in its funding reauthorization, Swayze replied, “A bill that’s not an extension.” But he added that the aviation community must set priorities for what is most important and work toward achieving that goal.