Transportation committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced two competing bills a day apart to reauthorize the FAA.
Not surprising, GA’s alphabet groups have come out in favor of the Senate bill, while voicing strong opposition to the House bill.
The Senate Bill
Senate Bill 1405, The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017, would reauthorize the FAA through the end of fiscal year 2021. It also includes aircraft certification reforms, as well as protections for GA, including the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which expands the rights of pilots in FAA enforcement proceedings.It also supports the FAA’s transition to 21st century air traffic control technologies, known as NextGen, as well as increases funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which pays for infrastructure like runways, by $400 million to an annual level of $3.75 billion, which is well within the projected trust fund surplus, lawmakers note.
It also requires a study and recommendations on upgrading and restoring the nation’s airport infrastructure.
The Senate legislation was introduced a day after the House Transportation Committee introduced its own FAA reauthorization bill, which calls for privatizing the air traffic control system.
The revised bill would spin off ATC from the FAA, creating a private non-profit corporation run by a board of directors nominated by the aviation industry and the federal government.
First introduced in February 2016 by Rep. Bill Shuster, the bill died with little support from other lawmakers and lots of opposition from the general aviation community. But now, with President Trump’s backing, the reintroduced bill has more support than before due to changes that exempt general aviation from ATC user fees, according to the Pennsylvania Congressman.
But that’s not what the GA alphabet groups are saying.
The groups are united in opposing the bill, which is called the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform & Reauthorization Act (or AIRR Act.) Each was quick to release statements that this legislation is bad not only for GA, but for all aviation across the country.
“As we have previously stated, privatizing ATC is a bad solution in search of a nonexistent problem,” said Jack J. Pelton, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO and Chairman. “The unknown costs, transition, and fallout from this plan would be extremely harmful to general aviation. EAA supports modernization of the American airspace system, and progress is happening with the input of all the system’s stakeholders. This new legislation would do nothing to solve any current technology or efficiency issues, while undermining the world’s most extensive general aviation system and disrupting the world’s largest and safest air traffic control system.”
National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen noted it is imperative that we don’t confused modernization with privatization.
“Our nation’s ATC system is and always will be a monopoly, and that monopoly must operate in the public’s best interest,” he said. “This bill proposes to strip control over that monopoly from the public’s elected representatives, and essentially hand sweeping authority to a group of private parties, which will likely make decisions based on their business interests.”
Bolen noted that among the many potentially harmful consequences of such an outcome are the possibility that access to the nation’s airports and airspace could become restricted.
“For a variety of reasons, we know that the citizens, companies and communities relying on general aviation for connectivity, civil services and other needs will be the ones most at risk if America’s aviation system is turned over to a private board largely unaccountable to Congress,” Bolen continued.
Just as quickly as they came out against the House bill, the GA groups issued statements supporting the Senate bill.
“As the largest association of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) supports the Senate FAA reauthorization legislation which will allow the U.S. air traffic control system to continue to be the safest and most efficient in the world, preserves the public benefit that access to aviation brings to rural communities, gives local airports more flexibility to build and repair infrastructure, provides pilots more common-sense protections, and further facilitates the important role general aviation plays in emergencies,” said Mark Baker, AOPA president.
“This bipartisan legislation is the right bill at the right time, helping strengthen and provide stability for the nation’s aviation system, so that it remains the world’s best five, 10 and 25 years from now,” NBAA’s Bolen said.
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association also came out in support of the Senate bill, noting it reforms the process for certifying general aviation aircraft products in the U.S. and addresses other regulatory barriers on manufacturing and maintenance organizations.
The reforms could be implemented quickly to address market and regulatory challenges the industry faces, resulting in a more efficient use of industry and FAA resources, and ensuring general aviation manufacturers can create more jobs and get their products to market quicker, GAMA officials noted.
GAMA officials added they hope the Senate proceeds quickly to a vote on the legislation and that Congress “passes these important reforms, which have already been held up too long by discussions about air traffic control privatization, including the proposal for a risky transition to a new, non-government entity for which only untested assertions about rewards or results can be made.”
“There is no guarantee this new entity could run the safest, busiest, most technically advanced and most complex airspace in the world, while simultaneously increasing the pace and impact of modernization, accommodating new civil entrants such as commercial space and unmanned and autonomous flying vehicles, while assuring the American people that this proposed new entity will serve the public interest,” said GAMA President Pete Bunce.
Passage of some kind of FAA legislation is needed by Sept. 30, when the agency’s authorization expires. If a full bill isn’t passed by then, a short-term extension will be needed. That’s something that’s happened a whopping 23 times in the last five years.
The short-term extensions create uncertainty for the FAA, as well as make it difficult for long-term planning of projects, such as the NextGen efforts, which is transitioning ATC to satellite-based coverage with the use of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B).