No user fees. No increase in avgas or jet fuel taxes. General aviation pilots can celebrate what wasn't included in the long-term FAA reauthorization bill. The House and Senate ironed out details on a four-year FAA reauthorization bill Jan. 31, paving the way for a full vote in both houses before the latest short-term funding extension expires Feb. 17. Highlights of the bill indicate that GA fared well.
The House passed the four-year bill Feb. 3, and the Senate is expected to vote in the coming days. The FAA has limped along on 23 short-term funding extensions since 2007. The long-term bill would authorize funding the agency with $63.4 billion through fiscal year 2015. Funding must be provided through annual appropriations.
In addition to authorizing funding for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), the compromise bill would allow the Secretary of Transportation to establish an incentive program for aircraft owners to equip with avionics needed for NextGen and require the Department of Transportation Inspector General to audit the FAA's ADS-B program annually to monitor the technology's implementation.
“The House and Senate agreement shows the support Congress has for funding the FAA and moving forward with ATC modernization and satellite-based navigation,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “This move is long overdue and couldn't come at a more critical juncture to improve the National Airspace System and keep it the model for countries worldwide.”
The bill authorizes $13.4 billion for the Airport Improvement Program and includes language on through-the-fence operations, ensuring that general aviation airport sponsors would not be in violation of federal grant assurances for entering an agreement with a property owner adjacent to the airport to have access to the airport. It also calls for a timeline for issuing improved pilot certificates that are tamper resistant and can accommodate a photograph, digital photograph, biometric identifier, or other unique identifier.
The Research, Engineering, and Development program is authorized $672 million over the four years. The bill would also allow for funding research into the qualification and safe transition to an unleaded fuel. In addition, the bill would require a study on the impact of aviation fuel price increases on the Aviation Trust Fund and GA industry, and call for a plan to decrease operational impacts on airports in the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area would also be required by the bill.
Two other GA-related provisions include that the FAA require a detailed inspection of ELTs on GA aircraft during every annual inspection and a clarification the volunteer pilots operating charitable medical flights can receive reimbursement for all or part of the fuel costs associated with the volunteer flight.