The full Senate has begun debating FAA reauthorization, passing amendments designed to increase security and rejecting a proposal to prevent airlines from shrinking seats and legroom.
“This legislation includes protections and reforms that are vital to the general aviation community, so we’re pleased the Senate is keeping it moving,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “No one in the aviation community wants to see the FAA kept in a holding pattern, and we need reauthorization to ensure the agency can move forward with initiatives that matter.”
The bill, which would extend FAA funding through September 2017, is widely considered good news for GA because it includes third class medical reform language that passed the Senate in December but does not include user fees for GA. In addition, the legislation would authorize annual increases in Airport Improvement Program funding, streamline certification for light GA aircraft, support a transition to unleaded aviation fuel, and make it easier to install modern safety equipment in legacy aircraft.
During the April 7 debate, the Senate passed an amendment introduced by Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to tighten vetting requirements for airline and airport workers, expand the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check program for passengers, and allow TSA to donate unused equipment to foreign airports that operate flights to the United States. The amendment, which was designed to address security concerns raised by the recent airport bombings in Brussels, was pulled together from other aviation security bills that had previously been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee or already passed the House. It passed on an 87-to-10 vote.
Another security-related amendment to allow homeland security grants to be used in non-secure areas of airports, require law enforcement officials at transportation hubs to undergo training for mass casualty and active shooter situations, and double the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams from 30 to 60 also passed. The Senate voted 91-to-5 to approve the amendment introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
The final amendment to receive a roll call vote in the Senate would have placed a moratorium on further reductions of aircraft seat size, width, padding, pitch, and legroom, as well as any further reductions in aisle width, until the FAA could prescribe minimum regulations for seat width and pitch. The amendment, offered by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), also would have required airlines to post their seat sizes online. The Senate rejected the amendment by a 54-to-42 vote.
Further debate is expected on the reauthorization legislation before it goes to a final vote. If it passes the Senate, the measure can then be sent to the House for consideration or the House could pass its own bill. If that happens any discrepancies between the two bills would have to be negotiated before the legislation could go to the president for his signature. The FAA is currently operating under an extension that expires July 15.
In the meantime, AOPA continues to push for passage of the S. 571, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which includes third class medical reforms. That measure has been passed by the Senate but has not yet been taken up in the House.