House passes FAA reauthorization bill

April 1, 2011

The House voted 223-196 to approve a bill that would reauthorize the FAA’s operations and programs for four years, at an overall funding level of $59.7 billion. The House bill essentially rolls back FAA spending authorization to 2008 levels, but requires the FAA administrator to identify significant cost savings without cutting activities critical to safety.

The bill streamlines processes and provides funding for priority NextGen air traffic control modernization projects planned in the next four years. It sets deadlines and establishes metrics for evaluating progress.

AOPA successfully advocated several provisions being modified or added that protect pilots’ freedom to fly without undue regulatory or monetary burdens. The association was successful in obtaining modifications to language that will ensure that the FAA administrator cannot complete an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) In equipage rulemaking proceeding or issue an interim or final rule until a chief NextGen officer verifies that the necessary ground infrastructure is installed and functioning properly, that certification standards have been approved, and that appropriate operational platforms interact safely and efficiently. 

In Congressional testimony earlier this year, AOPA President Craig Fuller had emphasized the importance of providing the FAA with the planning assurances provided by long-term reauthorization for modernization projects such as NextGen.

“A four-year FAA Reauthorization bill and the certainty it provides are vital for federal investments in safety, modernizing the air traffic control system, FAA operations, airport improvements, and aviation research efforts,” he said in written testimony before a February hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He urged Congress to continue to maintain and improve the nation’s airport infrastructure—assuring that the full benefits of NextGen can be realized.

AOPA worked with key members of Congress to ensure that the bill authorizes the FAA to conduct research and development of an unleaded aviation fuel for piston aircraft, and directs the FAA to collaborate with industry groups representing aviation consumers, manufacturers, fuel producers and distributors, and other federal agencies.

“This is an important issue to our members which received added traction when our House GA Caucus co-chairs, Congressman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Congressman John Barrow (D-Ga.), circulated a letter encouraging the inclusion of the provision," said AOPA Vice President of Legislative Affairs Lorraine Howerton.

AOPA joined with other aviation stakeholders to defeat an amendment that would have imposed a nighttime ban on all aircraft operations at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and Van Nuys Airport in California. That amendment would have had a devastating impact on local businesses and had widespread adverse impacts on aviation. 

The bill authorizes $3.1 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for fiscal year 2011, and $3 billion per year from fiscal years 2012 to 2014. Although that decreases funding from current levels, general aviation airports will still receive 20 percent of total AIP funds.

Other provisions favorable to general aviation include language AOPA advocated that would allow the continued inspection of aircraft at foreign repair stations. Another provision supported by AOPA protects the privacy of aircraft owners or operators by preserving the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, and directs the FAA to allow aircraft owners and operators to opt out of having their flight information published by flight-tracking services. AOPA also supported an amendment that would improve FAA rulemaking activities by requiring the FAA to recognize different segments of the aviation industry when applying regulatory standards, and only enact regulations after concluding that the costs are justified by the benefits.

On Feb. 17, the Senate voted 87-8 to approve a two-year, $34.5 billion reauthorization bill. While there are many similarities in the two bills, there are also differences that a conference committee must address before the bill can be presented to the president for his signature.

“We are optimistic that the House and Senate are very close to completing work on this much needed bill, and we will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that general aviation interests are included,” Howerton said.