The FAA needs to be more efficient and move more swiftly to complete critical projects in order for the United States to maintain its gold standard in aviation safety, House leaders told FAA Administrator Michael Huerta during a hearing on FAA reauthorization. Meanwhile, the FAA requested greater flexibility to address modernization, the integration of drones into national airspace, and spending across various programs.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which will play a critical role in setting long-term priorities for the FAA as part of the reauthorization process, was sharply critical of the agency’s modernization efforts to date.
“We critically need to modernize the ATC system, something the FAA has been working since the beginning of the Reagan administration,” Shuster said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, we have too little to show for it except for cost overruns and delays. As a result, many stakeholders have understandably lost confidence in FAA’s ability to modernize.”
House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) noted that progress has been made on NextGen modernization and the aviation community is beginning to see some of its promised benefits but he, too, took the FAA to task for its slow pace on a range of issues and urged the agency to be “more aggressive” with integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace.
“For the past year, we’ve received an extensive amount of input from stakeholders regarding the slow pace of FAA’s implementation of NextGen as well as the agency’s inefficient and overly burdensome certification processes,” LoBiondo said in a prepared statement. “Many of these problems have been identified in several oversight hearings conducted by this subcommittee, as well by the DOT Inspector General and Government Accountability Office.”
For his part, Huerta asked Congress for more flexibility to meet the demands of a changing environment, including the freedom to move money among different accounts, consolidate air traffic control facilities, and receive exemptions from some existing laws in order to address UAS issues.
During the hearing, lawmakers challenged Huerta on a number of issues, including the slow pace of regulatory reform, UAS integration, and the structure of the nation’s air traffic control system.
On that topic Shuster suggested that the time had come to consider alternative models for managing the air traffic control system, including those used in other countries. While Huerta indicated that both he and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx are open to discussing changes, he noted that safety must be the top priority and that the system must be one that “works for the United States, not for other countries.”
Congressman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), an AOPA member and leading champion for third class medical reform, used that issue as an example of just how long it can take to implement change. Huerta responded by saying that he understands the frustrations with the regulatory process, but that it is intended to be a deliberative one. He added that the FAA has been in discussions with the Department of Transportation and others about the best way to move forward on medical reform.
An FAA notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to expand an existing standard that allows pilots to fly recreationally without getting a third class medical certificate has been stalled in DOT for nearly eight months. Rokita is among 22 bipartisan House and Senate co-sponsors of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (PBR2) which was introduced Feb. 25 and would allow thousands of pilots to fly without a third class medical certificate. AOPA strongly supports the legislation, and tens of thousands of AOPA members have contacted their senators and members of Congress to ask them to join in co-sponsoring the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2.
Huerta was also asked about ongoing efforts to rewrite the Part 23 certification requirements, a process that has stretch over many years. According to the FAA administrator, a notice of proposed rulemaking is expected this year.
Several members of the subcommittee brought up the issue of UAS and their safe integration into the National Airspace System. Huerta referred to the small UAS Rule that the FAA recently published and cited the need to implement the rule. He also referenced the UAS test sites around the country and leveraging these locations.
The hearing was one of a series of discussions leading up to the development of FAA reauthorization legislation. The FAA’s current authorization expires in September at the end of the current fiscal year.
In appearances before congressional committees and roundtables on the subject, AOPA has emphasized the need for stable long-term funding to enable the FAA to complete important projects, including modernization, certification reform, medical reform, and testing of unleaded aviation fuels. That funding, AOPA has said, should continue to come from excise taxes on aviation fuel rather than from user fees.
AOPA has also told Congress that the FAA needs to help create a regulatory and certification environment that supports general aviation by developing a less prescriptive approach to certification, reforming the third class medical process, working with industry to reduce the cost of the 2020 ADS-B mandate, ensuring continued access to airspace for general aviation, and taking other steps to help general aviation grow and thrive.