The US Senate has passed legislation to reauthorize FAA through Sept. 30, 2017, by a 95-3 vote.
The bill, backed by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the committee’s ranking Democrat, gained wide bipartisan support by staying away from issues that were controversial among lawmakers, such as separating air traffic control (ATC) from FAA, and focusing on areas of consensus, such as airline consumer protection and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) safety. Following the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels, senators added aviation security provisions to the bill, including enhancing requirements for vetting airport employees with access to secure areas of airports, mandating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) review perimeter security at airports and seeking to reduce crowds in pre-security check areas of airports by expanding TSA’s Pre-Check program.
“This legislation does more to enhance security against the threat of terrorism and help frustrated passengers than any proposal in recent history,” Thune said following the bill’s passage. “We should not delay action on security enhancements in this bill or public safety benefits from the proper management of drones.”
Airlines for America (A4A) has strongly criticized the Senate bill for regulatory overreach. “Air travel is more accessible and affordable than ever before,” A4A president and CEO Nicholas Calio said following the Senate bill’s passage. “Despite the high level of satisfaction among airline passengers, the Senate bill contains unnecessary provisions that would take a step backward to pre-1978 regulation polices and make it more difficult for consumers to afford to fly.”
The overwhelming vote will put pressure on the House of Representatives to take up similar legislation. The effort to reauthorize FAA in the House has stalled over House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-Pennsylvania) plan to create an independent, non-profit corporation to manage ATC.
“We’ve given the House a good bipartisan blueprint to follow and one that they ought to pass easily,” Nelson said. “Adding controversial measures could put the bill in jeopardy and result in a big loss for consumers and for the safety of the flying public.”
Following the Senate bill’s passage, Shuster said in a statement that he “will take a look at the completed product” that has emerged from the Senate, but added that “in the House, we will continue to push forward with” the proposed House FAA bill that contains the ATC provision.
“Transformational air traffic control reform is absolutely necessary to end the unacceptable status quo at the FAA and to ensure the future of America’s aviation system,” Shuster said. While Shuster’s bill has passed the T&I Committee, it is unclear when the full House will take up the measure for a vote.
For FAA reauthorization to become law, both the Senate and House would have to pass an identical bill to send to President Barack Obama for signature into law. FAA’s authorization expired on Sept. 30, 2015, but it is now running under the second short-term extension passed by Congress to keep the agency fully operational. The latest extension lasts until July 15.