Small-airplane revitalization bill soars in House

July 17, 2013

The U. S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill to revitalize the general aviation industry by setting the ground rules—and a deadline—for the FAA as it updates small-aircraft certification regulations. The regulatory modernization, guided by industry recommendations, could speed the aircraft certification process, lowering the cost of bringing new aircraft designs to market and upgrading older aircraft.

The measure, now headed for Senate consideration, imposes a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, for the FAA to develop the new certification standards based on worldwide industry experts’ recommendations made to an aviation rulemaking committee.

“AOPA is grateful to the U.S. House of Representatives for their swift approval of a bill that urges the Federal Aviation Administration to streamline the regulations that govern general aviation aircraft, and we urge the U.S. Senate to quickly follow suit,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “The regulations today, known collectively as Part 23, have been eclipsed by technological and design advances. They are holding back important safety features from pilots and aircraft owners. Revising the regulations will make our aircraft safer and more affordable, and it will allow pilots and aircraft owners to more easily upgrade to avionics that offer features like collision avoidance and real-time weather.”

The 411-0 vote in the House on July 16 gave a ringing endorsement of the bill approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on July 10. The lead sponsor of the measure (H.R.1848) was House General Aviation Caucus member Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who was joined by a bipartisan group of original co-sponsors including Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the House GA Caucus co-chair and an AOPA member; GA Caucus members Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.); and another AOPA member and GA Caucus member, Todd Rokita (R-Ind.). Other AOPA members who co-sponsored the bill include John Barrow (D-Ga), co-chair of the House GA Caucus, and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.).

The bipartisan group was joined by a large number of co-sponsors from both parties, as AOPA reported after the committee vote. That brought the number of co-sponsors to 31.

Prior to the House vote, AOPA and industry stakeholders circulated a letter to members of Congress in strong support of the legislation. This letter was submitted to the Congressional Record during floor debatel. In addition to AOPA, signers of the letter included the Experimental Aircraft Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the National Air Transportation Association, and the National Business Aviation Association.

Lead sponsor Pompeo has said the existing certification system for small aircraft drives costs up as much as tenfold for safety and technology upgrades of aircraft.  Overhauling the Part 23 regulations should create a regulatory environment that removes barriers to investment in new aircraft designs. Equally important to the industry’s economic outlook are provisions that would allow safety-equipment upgrades of existing aircraft without the current prohibitive costs.

“Across the board, there’s too much regulation and too much uncertainty because of Washington these days,” said co-sponsor Graves. “General aviation is no exception. This bill will make flying easier, safer, and more cost effective.”

Rokita, also a pilot, said he knows “the importance of the general aviation and small plane industry to the Hoosier economy. That is why I am proud to have introduced and passed this pro-jobs legislation. Innovation and growth should not be slowed down by burdensome, and often trivial, regulations that have done nothing more than increase costs,” he said.

Supporters of the bill pointed out that an aviation rulemaking committee, working during an 18-month period, gathered recommendations from government and industry experts, then provided recommendations to the FAA for the Part 23 overhaul. The committee, on which AOPA participated, was co-chaired by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

The bill’s advocates added that updated regulations could turn around an industry which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said has experienced “unique challenges” that include “a steady decline in new pilots, flight activity, and the sale of new aircraft.”

Those challenges were in part caused by “overly prescriptive and outdated certification processes, which often inhibit the availability of modern safety solutions for certificated GA aircraft,” the panel wrote in a background summary of the issue that was provided to the full House before the vote. The industry’s continuing woes included a loss, over the last decade, of about 10,000 active private pilots per year, “partially due to a lack of cost-effective, new small airplanes,” the committee document said.

In addition to establishing a deadline for the FAA to put forward its final rule for overhauling Part 23, the bill requires the agency to create streamlined regulations that improve safety and reduce cost, set safety objectives that “spur innovation and technology adoption,” replace “prescriptive rules” with “new standards for compliance and testing;” and use “FAA-accepted consensus standards to clarify how FAR Part 23 safety objectives maybe met by specific designs and technologies.”

AOPA will continue to work with the leaders of the Senate companion bill, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), both Senate GA Caucus members, to pass the bill in the Senate.

“It is time for the FAA to adopt these changes, as directed by Congress, and make flying safer,” said Fuller.