No user fees in Senate FAA reauthorization bill

WASHINGTON. D.C. — FAA reauthorization has been introduced in the Senate for only a two-year extension, “so President Obama will have a chance to work out his program.”

Reauthorization is usually approved for four years. If the Senate and House versions of the bill are reconciled, this means no user fees — at least for the next two years.

Senators John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, introduced the bill, which also was endorsed by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking member on the full committee, and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), ranking member of the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee.

While the Senate bill introduced July 14 does not contain user fees, Rockefeller made it clear he continued to support direct user fees on general aviation.

The bill has three main issues: Modernization of the air traffic control system, safety concerns, and improving rural area access.

Speeding up the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NextGen) is a major issue, with the bill calling for deadlines for the adoption of GPS navigation systems and mandating 100% coverage of the top 35 airports by 2014 and the entire national airspace system by 2018.

The bill also:

  • Mandates an independent study of the latest scientific research on pilot fatigue be applied to FAA’s required rulemaking on flight time limits and rest requirements for flight crews.
  • Improves safety for helicopter emergency medical service operations by mandating that the FAA standardize dispatch procedures, and requiring the use of terrain awareness and warning systems, and flight data and cockpit voice recorders on board such helicopters.
  • Addresses inconsistent application of Airworthiness Directives (ADs) by: improving voluntary disclosure reporting processes to ensure adequate actions are taken in response to reports; limiting the ability of FAA inspectors to work for air carriers which they had oversight; and conducting independent reviews of safety issues identified by employees.
  • Requires enhanced safety oversight of foreign repair stations.
  • Takes steps to ensure “one level of safety” exists in commercial aircraft operations including a mandate that all carriers adopt additional safety oversight programs and by promoting cooperation among carriers to share best practices and other critical safety information.

The legislation introduced Tuesday must be considered by the Senate Commerce Committee and then reconciled with the House version. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, welcomed the passage of the Senate version, saying there is a lot of common ground, noting that  Congress cannot wait any longer to pass its bill.

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