The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its Homeland Security Appropriations bill (H.R.2638) with several provisions important to pilots, such as continued funding for the AOPA Airport Watch Program, requiring safety testing for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and continued support for the loran navigation system.
"With more than 5,400 public-use general aviation airports in the United States, the committee supports a robust program to reinforce security at these facilities and directs the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] to continue funding ongoing activities in this area," stated the House Appropriations Committee report on the bill.
Airport Watch, developed in cooperation with the TSA, uses the eyes and ears of the nation's nearly 600,000 pilots to look out for suspicious activity at airports and, if need be, report it. The program also encourages all pilots and airport employees to lock airplanes, hangars, and buildings when not in use. Suspicious activity should be reported to 866/GA-SECURE. The toll-free number is staffed by TSA specialists.
The House bill also mandates the testing of UAVs to "determine the risk of midair collisions with manned aircraft," according to the committee report. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will work with the FAA on the testing.
"This testing is very important because expanded use of UAVs along the borders must not adversely affect aviation," explained Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. UAVs should be certified by the FAA to the same level of safety as manned aircraft and include technology that allows them to safely fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft."
Also in the bill, the House voted to continue funding loran for the coming year. Although the Coast Guard believes loran is not necessary, AOPA supports keeping it in operation as a potential backup navigation system to GPS.
The Senate is currently reviewing its Homeland Appropriations bill and the next stop will be the floor of the full Senate.