FAA Administrator Michael Huerta appealed to a Senate committee for “stability and predictability” in funding for his agency, and provided updates on the status of several major modernization programs during an April 14 FAA reauthorization hearing. The enormous FAA reauthorization bill is up for renewal this year, and Huerta appeared as the lone witness before the Senate panel.
Since the most recent reauthorization, he said, the FAA has made “major progress” on NextGen programs, logged a milestone with completion of a new high-altitude air traffic control system, and finished developing the coast-to-coast Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system on which NextGen is founded.
“We have accomplished all of this despite a very challenging fiscal backdrop,” Huerta told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “Prior to 2012, the FAA faced 23 short-term extensions for reauthorization, as well as a lapse in spending authority and a partial furlough. Two years ago, like other federal agencies, we slashed our budget under the sequester and furloughed employees. Later that year, we continued to operate our nation’s air traffic control system and regulate industry safety despite a complete shutdown of the federal government. What the FAA needs in reauthorization is stability and predictable funding. We also need the flexibility to identify priorities and match our services and infrastructure with the needs of our users.”
As the reauthorization process proceeds, AOPA continues to press Congress to pass legislation that would expand the third class medical exemption.
In remarks to open the hearing, Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said the air traffic system has served well. However, “the Government Accountability Office and DOT’s Inspector General have pointed out many shortcomings with respect to FAA’s efforts to modernize our air traffic control system,” he said, adding that “some of the problems seem to be deep rooted and cultural in nature.”
Senators pressed Huerta for specifics on the mandate for aircraft to be equipped by 2020 with ADS-B Out technology; the delivery, as mandated by Congress, of a proposed rule to rewrite Part 23 aircraft certification standards; and when a rule for developing an electronic pilot records database, mandated in 2010, would be completed.
Huerta responded that the FAA is working with the aviation industry to bring about compliance with the ADS-B mandate—noting that there are now more satellite-based procedures in place than radar-based procedures.
Asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) when the FAA would publish its notice of proposed rulemaking on Part 23 aircraft certification standards—as the agency is required to do under provisions included in the Small Airplane Revitalization Act—Huerta said he hoped the proposed rule would be ready by year’s end.
Responding to an inquiry by Thune, Huerta conceded “frustration” at the pace of progress on a rule for an improved electronic pilot records database mandated by Congress in 2010.
The rule’s due date has been moved back more than a year, to next April. The database would provide air carriers and other employers with easier access to pilot training records and other information about flight crew applicants. The task is a complex undertaking, facing a variety of challenges, but the FAA and industry are working cooperatively on solutions, Huerta told the committee.
Responding to questions about the notion of potentially restructuring the current air traffic control system by potentially privatizing or establishing a government corporation, Huerta noted that all options were up for consideration, but that first it was important to answer the question, “What exactly is the problem we’re trying to solve?”