The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation safety and infrastructure programs for the next five years, by a unanimous 63-0 vote.
The Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act was introduced on June 9 by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., Ranking Member Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves, R-La., and Ranking Member Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and includes several tech provisions to bolster security and innovation within the Federal aviation sector.
The nearly 800-page bill will now go to the House floor for a vote, with hopes of getting it across President Joe Biden’s desk before the FAA’s current authorization expires on Sept. 30.
“This bipartisan bill is critical to America’s global leadership in aviation, to our economy and millions of jobs, and to making the entire system safer and more efficient for all users and the traveling public,” said Chairman Sam Graves when his committee passed the bill on June 14 – after two full days of debate.
The committee’s legislation comes after five grueling FAA reauthorization hearings, and one nationwide ground stop when the agency’s Notice to Air Missions system broke down earlier this year – sparking bipartisan concern over the agency’s outdated IT systems and cybersecurity.
The House bill has four sections dedicated to improving aviation technologies and the workforce:
- Improving FAA efficiency and operations: The bill makes targeted changes to the organizational structure of the FAA to improve the overall efficiency of the agency, allow for innovation, and streamline the regulatory process;
- Growing the aviation workforce: This bill addresses workforce challenges by removing barriers to pursuing aviation careers, expanding the aviation workforce pipeline, improving training standards, and more;
- Upholding America’s gold standard in safety: The bill addresses several safety issues, including the recent uptick in runway incursions, to ensure the United States, and the FAA, remain the world’s gold standard in aviation safety; and
- Encouraging aviation innovation: America has been a leader in aviation innovation. Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic hurdles, endless research, and pilot programs that are not leading to the development and incorporation of new technologies, China and other countries are beginning to surpass the United States. The bill encourages the safe yet more efficient testing and integration of new technologies, such as drones and Advanced Air Mobility, into the airspace.
“The Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act is the most comprehensive aviation legislation the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has ever approved. This legislation will help to improve the passenger experience for all travelers while laying the groundwork for innovators and new technologies to advance in America,” said Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves.
“This legislation will make the Federal Aviation Administration’s structure more certain, predictable, and capable of facilitating improvements and innovations in our national airspace,” he added. “These transformational changes will ensure that the United States can continue to set the gold standard in aviation safety while leading the world in aviation innovation.”
Wheels up for Senate FAA Bill
The Senate also introduced companion legislation this week, aiming to authorize the FAA with $107 billion in appropriations from fiscal years 2024 through 2028.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Ranking Member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Aviation Subcommittee Chair Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 on June 12 to “ensure the United States has safe, reliable and resilient air travel, stronger consumer protections for the flying public, advanced research in aviation innovation and a modernized national airspace system to maintain the gold standard in aviation safety for years to come.”
The 461-page legislation is chock-full of technology and innovation nuggets to bolster the Federal aviation sector, including $18.2 billion to modernize key technologies.
“When we fly we expect to get where we’re going, safely, at a reasonable cost. But with mass flight cancellations, runway near-misses, and skyrocketing prices, Americans are getting frustrated,” said Sen. Cantwell in a statement. “The bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act will help get the air travel system soaring again by improving safety and service. The bill provides funding for the latest safety technology on runways, and to hire more air traffic controllers, pilots, and mechanics.”
The committee was originally set to mark up the bill during an executive session today, but it was delayed with no set time rescheduled.
Some of the tech improvements that the Senate’s bipartisan legislation calls for include:
- Modernizing FAA systems: This bill requires the FAA to complete the last stage of NextGen by December 31, 2025, and upgrade the National Airspace System with the latest software and infrastructure, enabling the transition from legacy systems;
- Creating a new innovation office: This bill establishes a new airspace innovation office to lead the continued modernization of the airspace system and meet the needs of a diverse set of airspace users, such as advanced air mobility;
- Planning for future airspace technology: This bill provides the FAA with resources and direction to complete the next stage of airspace modernization by deploying new air traffic management and surveillance technologies and incorporating the lessons learned from previous modernization efforts;
- Facilitating commercial use of drones and unmanned aircraft: This bill directs the FAA to establish a pathway for beyond visual line-of-sight operations and create two additional test sites for companies to start using unmanned aircraft for package delivery or other operations;
- Growing the aviation workforce and creating jobs to meet demand; and
- Continuing research and development for innovative aviation technologies.