The Senate Commerce Committee has unveiled its own version of FAA reauthorization legislation, which it plans to mark up on March 16.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658) was introduced March 9 and would authorize FAA funding for approximately 18 months through September 2017. The bill contains third class medical reform language that passed the Senate in December but does not include user fees for general aviation, instead relying on the current system of excise taxes on fuel. 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.
“This bill includes meaningful reforms that the general aviation community wants and needs—especially changes to the third class medical and the aircraft certification process,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) has been a strong supporter of general aviation and we hope the Senate will move quickly to pass this legislation, which could save general aviation pilots hundreds of millions of dollars, improve general aviation safety, and strengthen the GA industry.”
The legislation also increases from 10 to 15 the number of states that can participate in the State Block Grant Program, which enables participating states to determine which airports will receive funds for ongoing maintenance and improvement projects.
The FAA’s current authorization package expires March 31. Both the House and the Senate have indicated they will approve another short-term extension ahead of the deadline, giving Congress time to complete negotiations on a reauthorization bill.
"This legislation includes provisions for the FAA to continue vital programs, such as NextGen modernization and the study of unleaded fuels for piston aircraft, along with reforms that can lower costs and help the GA community thrive,” Baker added.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its own bill, H.R. 4441 also known as the AIRR Act, on Feb. 11. But the inclusion of a highly controversial provision to privatize air traffic control function has stalled that bill.
The Senate Commerce Committee will consider amendments during the markup process. After that, if the full Senate passes FAA reauthorization, the House could take up the Senate passed bill or pass its own FAA bill and request a conference with the Senate to iron out further details.
In the meantime, AOPA continues to lead the effort to build support for third class medical reform, and continues to win new cosponsors to help push passage in the House. The Senate passed the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (S. 571) in December and AOPA continues to work with the House to see medical reform reach the president’s desk, either through standalone legislation or as part of FAA reauthorization.