WASHINGTON, D.C. – Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) have introduced the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, legislation that establishes an independent, not-for-profit corporation, outside of the federal government, to modernize and provide air traffic control (ATC) services.
The AIRR Act (H.R. 4441), a six-year reauthorization of the FAA, maintains the FAA’s role as the nation’s aviation safety regulator, the congressmen note.
The reauthorization bill also streamlines the FAA’s aviation equipment and aircraft certification processes, provides additional consumer protections, addresses aviation safety issues, gives the FAA more tools for the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems, and provides for airport infrastructure improvements across the country, according to the bill’s sponsors.
“The United States has led the world in aviation since pioneering this modern mode of transportation. We have the safest system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill,” Shuster said. “But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system.
“Furthermore, the FAA’s overly bureaucratic certification processes are handicapping American companies and causing us to fall behind our competition,” he continued. “The AIRR Act is transformational legislation that prepares the U.S. aviation system for the future, helps ensure a modern, safe system that benefits passengers and the economy, and keeps America competitive in a vital industry.”
Shuster and his team even put together a video explaining why the changes are necessary. You can see it here.
Shuster acknowledges that there have been “genuine policy differences” in putting together the bill. The committee meets next week to discuss the bill, offering members a chance to “further discuss” the changes, as well as “offer amendments during the markup process.”
The current authorization of the FAA expires at the end of March.
According to Shuster, the committee has held numerous meetings, listening sessions, roundtables, and hearings over the past two years to gather input and ideas from transportation officials, stakeholders, and policy experts in developing the AIRR Act.
He says the legislation “recognizes that maintaining the status quo will result in more setbacks and soaring costs of failed federal ATC modernization efforts, a bureaucracy that continues to stifle American innovation, and a system that is incapable of handling growing demand.”
Establishing an independent ATC provider has become the standard across the world, he said, noting the United States is one of the last industrialized nations yet to do so.
“Countries that have done so have consistently benefited from safety levels that have been maintained or improved, successful modernization of their ATC systems, improved ATC services, and generally lower ATC service costs,” he noted in a prepared released on the proposed legislation. “The AIRR Act seeks to move U.S. aviation into the modern era and beyond.
The 270-page actually includes several positives for general aviation, according to officials with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“There are some very good things for general aviation in this bill. I think everyone can agree that the FAA can be more efficient and effective, and this legislation creates opportunities for both third class medical reform and certification reform that have the potential to make flying safer and more affordable,” said AOPA President Mark Baker.
But there are other provisions AOPA will firmly oppose, he add, “such as user fees for any segment of GA, including business aviation.”
“And still other elements, like the plan to separate air traffic control from the FAA, raise important questions that demand meaningful answers,” he continued. “Ultimately, we need to know that any FAA reauthorization legislation will protect the interests of general aviation now and into the future.”
AOPA officials say they plan to carefully study the bill’s language and its potential consequences over the coming days.
“This is extremely complex legislation and we need to be sure we get it right and fix only the things that are actually broken, so we will be going over it with a fine-toothed comb,” said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Coon. “This bill is an important starting point and there are many more steps to go before it is finalized. AOPA is going to be actively involved in the process, representing the needs of our members at every step along the way and opposing any provisions that would harm GA.”
“With FAA funding set to expire March 31, it seems unlikely that the House and Senate can reach agreement on final legislation before the deadline, increasing the chances that we’ll see another short term extension of the status quo,” he added.
Officials at the Aircraft Electronics Association echo many of AOPA’s comments.
“At first glance of the 270-page bill, the AEA is pleased the legislation addresses easing the burdens of certification and includes language that FAA aviation safety inspectors need more training to perform their jobs,” said Paula Derks, AEA president. “However, we are extremely troubled with the proposed privatization of the air traffic control system.
“Our concerns include unforeseen transition costs and the increased operational costs within the industry, which will be financed by a user fee scheme,” she said. “Lobbied for by all major airlines, with the exception of Delta, we feel this privatization proposal is a power play by the airlines to dictate what fees the general aviation industry will pay in the future.”