A funding extension that will authorize the Federal Aviation Administration through September of next year is headed to President Barack Obama for his expected signature later this week, after passing the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
The measure passed in the House on Monday and then in the Senate on Wednesday.
Within it are wins and losses for the general aviation industry, say industry advocates and legislators.
On the victory side of the column is the inclusion of long-sought medical reform for pilots, which has passed through the Senate multiple times and finally passed through the House in advance of the July 15 end of the FAA’s current authorization.
By expanding the FAA’s current third-class medical requirements for sport pilots to other general aviation pilots, eliminating the need for most pilots to repeatedly take the medical exams, the reform is heralded as a major victory for the industry.
“This is the most significant legislative victory for general aviation in decades,” said Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, in a story from AOPA. “These reforms will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of pilots from an outdated, costly, and unnecessarily burdensome system. This legislation will strengthen the private pilot-private physician relationship and improve awareness of medical issues throughout our community. It will help pilots save time, money, and frustration.”
Should President Obama sign the extension into law as expected, the FAA will have a year to develop and issue regulations for pilots under the new reform.
Another victory for general aviation tucked into the extension is the omission of user fees or provisions, which were controversial when they were being sought, to privatize the air traffic control system.
While good news for pilots, others felt the legislation failed in its support of manufacturers.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he could not support the extension because of its lack of reform regarding aircraft certification.
“I have long said that our federal aviation system is in need of significant reforms, and instead what we have here is a ‘take it or leave it’ extension,” Moran said in a statement. “General aviation is Kansas’ largest industry. Our aviation manufacturers need the ability to compete, and the bill we previously passed included provisions to help them do just that – streamlining aircraft certification, significantly improving efficiency and better focusing the FAA’s valuable resources. These reforms would have a positive impact on our economy, job security and job creation. Without including these necessary provisions, I cannot support this extension.”
Moran’s thoughts echoed those of Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, who said in a statement earlier this month when the extension was introduced that aviation manufacturers and the employees it supports would lose out as a result of not getting the certification reforms that would remove regulatory burdens on the industry.
Bunce, who added that the medical reform was a positive addition, said in his previous statement that he hopes certification reform isn’t forgotten by legislators over the course of the next year.
“We hope that members of Congress will recommit themselves to passing these reforms as quickly as possible and well before the September 30, 2017 deadline established in this extension,” he said.