Reauthorization of the FAA — which not only provides funding for the agency, but also spells out Congressional mandates — has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee and now moves to the full Senate.
During a markup session held March 16, the committee considered dozens of proposed amendments to the bill, with more than 50 approved.
The Senate reauthorization bill includes third class medical reform, but no user fees. The bill also authorizes annual increases in Airport Improvement Program funding, streamlines certification for general aviation aircraft, supports a transition to unleaded aviation fuel, and makes it easier to install modern safety equipment in legacy aircraft.
“We’re pleased that the Senate is keeping FAA reauthorization legislation moving,” said Jim Coon, senior vice president of government affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “Past experience has shown that limping along from extension to extension — sometimes for years — can really slow important long-term initiatives. This bill would give the FAA a way forward while addressing many of the big issues that matter to the general aviation community, including third class medical reform and aircraft certification reform.”
But with the FAA’s current funding set to expire March 31 and lawmakers leaving Washington, D.C., March 18 for a two-week Easter recess, a short-term extension will be necessary.
A bill has already been introduced in the House of Representatives to extend the FAA’s authorization through July 15.
That extension was necessary due to the huge backlash to the original House FAA reauthorization bill, which included a controversial proposal to privatize the Air Traffic Control function of the FAA.
GA groups adamantly opposed the idea, and lobbied ferociously against it.
That provision was withdrawn in the latest bill, H.R. 4721, the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2016.
Without an extension, the authority to collect aviation taxes will lapse, and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund will be deprived of more than $30 million a day — funding needed for air traffic control, airport development, and other aviation programs, lawmakers noted.
In addition, airports will be unable to receive grant money that’s already been awarded to them, putting dozens of construction projects across the country at risk of delay, cost overrun, or cancellation. H.R. 4721 avoids these unnecessary consequences as Congress works to finalize a long-term aviation bill, officials noted.
Meanwhile, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has said he hopes the full Senate will take up the FAA reauthorization legislation after it returns to Washington, D.C., April 4.
If the full Senate passes reauthorization, the House could then take up the Senate-passed bill or pass its own FAA bill and request a conference with the Senate to iron out the details.
Several lawmakers have said they hope to settle this soon, hoping to avoid what happened during the last FAA reauthorization when an astonishing 23 consecutive short-term extensions were passed between 2007 and 2012 before a full reauthorization bill was finally passed.