Legislation to reauthorize the FAA through the 2017 fiscal year will move to the full Senate after being approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on March 16.
The committee swiftly moved through dozens of proposed amendments to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658), passing more than 50 en bloc at the beginning of the markup session.
The legislation includes 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.
“We’re pleased that the Senate is keeping FAA reauthorization legislation moving,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “Past experience has shown that limping along from extension to extension—sometimes for years—can really slow important long-term initiatives. This bill would give the FAA a way forward while addressing many of the big issues that matter to the general aviation community, including third class medical reform and aircraft certification reform.”
During Wednesday’s markup, the Commerce Committee passed two significant amendments affecting drones—one that would require drone operators to tell the public about the type of personal data they collect and one that gives the Department of Transportation two years to issue a final rule creating a “small UAS air carrier certificate” for operators using drones for package delivery.
The Senate is scheduled to leave town on March 18 to start a two-week Easter recess, and Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has said he hopes the full Senate will take up the FAA reauthorization legislation after it returns to work April 4. If the full Senate passes 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.
But with the FAA’s current funding set to expire March 31 and the Senate leaving town March 18 for a two-week recess, senators have just two more days to pass an extension to keep the FAA operating while lawmakers negotiate reauthorization. The House already passed a short-term extension bill, and the Senate is expected to take up the bill later this week.