News from the HAI Government Affairs team on the US Senate advancing the FAA reauthorization bill, regulations for Hawaii air tour operators, a meeting of EHA officials in Belgium, and more developments in vertical aviation.
Senate Committee Advances FAA Reauthorization Bill
Summary of Facts
Last week, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved a sweeping package of aviation policies and infrastructure that includes reauthorization of the FAA. Amendments to the bill include a new program for pilot training, additional flights from and to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (KDCA), and no increase in pilot retirement age. The Senate also addressed key aviation issues such as growing the workforce and enabling the successful integration of cutting-edge aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS).
The Commerce Committee’s recent approval of the FAA reauthorization legislation marks progress in addressing agency challenges and enhancing policies to better support vertical aviation. The legislation is now set for consideration on the Senate floor. Reconciliation of differences between the House and Senate bills before the Mar. 8 deadline is crucial for the successful passage of the FAA reauthorization bill.
HAI Position and Actions
HAI thanks committee leadership for their bipartisan efforts to get a bill passed into law before the deadline. HAI was buoyed by the committee’s effort to tackle the aviation workforce shortage, especially the need for more aviation maintenance technicians.
HAI will continue working with lawmakers to address issues including equitable access to the NAS and maintaining its safety as the volume of uncrewed aircraft increases. The vertical aviation industry is encouraged by the progress made last week and remains optimistic that the House and Senate will collaborate in a timely manner to pass a final package that retains the best components of each of their versions of the bill.
HAI will post a summary of the Senate bill to our Advocacy webpage later this week.
State and Local Updates
Hawaii Passes S.2747 and Defers S.2891
Summary of Facts
In January, Hawaii State Senator Chris Lee introduced S.2747, which would require Hawaii’s director of transportation to establish regulations mandating that air tour operators maintain aircraft liability insurance coverage of at least $1 million per person per incident. The bill underwent its initial hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 6, and was deferred until the following Thursday. After this deferral, the Transportation and Culture and Arts Committee (TCA) advanced the bill, indicating that the Consumer Protection Committee would review the language, given its members’ expertise in handling insurance limits.
As a result of this review, S.2747 was approved with amendments, including the replacement of the specific $1 million requirement with language that stipulates a certain percentage relative to the highest minimum required insurance at a US international airport. Notably, the bill received unanimous approval.
S.2891 was also discussed at the TCA hearing on Tuesday. The bill seeks to grant the state department of transportation authority to permit helicopter operations at Kapalua Airport (PHJH) during daylight hours. Despite significant testimony submissions, the committee decided to defer the measure because a substantial portion of those providing testimony were opposed to the bill. Notably, three council members from Maui, who are not committee members, attended to express their stance against the bill. The widespread opposition to S.2891 prompted the removal of its companion bill, H.1621, from the House hearing agenda on that day.
HAI Position and Actions
Both HAI and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) submitted testimony responding to these bills. HAI expressed opposition to S.2747, citing concerns that the mandated insurance is not readily available at a reasonable cost and therefore creates an undue burden on air tour operators. HAI also highlighted that the bill does not set equivalent requirements for other operators, a disparity that could be considered a violation of FAA-established grant assurances for federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds. Moreover, the bill appears to encroach on the FAA’s exclusive authority to regulate aircraft safety, which, independent of AIP-based assurances, renders the bill federally preempted.
HAI and AOPA expressed support for S.2891. As one of the few remaining public-use airfields in the state constraining general aviation (GA) operations, Kapalua Airport could benefit from expanded access for both helicopters and fixed-wing GA aircraft. HAI looks forward to collaborating with the committee and the state transportation department to facilitate the airport’s inclusive usage in the future.
HAI Addresses Key Vertical Aviation Issues in Brussels
This week, HAI Chief Government Affairs Officer Cade Clark participated in meetings with the European Helicopter Association (EHA) in Brussels, Belgium. The meetings covered a range of issues the vertical aviation industry faces in Europe, including regulations currently under consideration by the European Union Aviation Safety Association and data collection efforts.
While in Brussels, Clark also met with FAA and US Department of Energy staff to discuss issues of priority to the industry, including sustainability efforts and advanced air mobility.
Other Related News
HAI Attends AAM Flight Demonstration in Louisiana
HAI Senior Director of Government Affairs John Shea attended an event in Houma, Louisiana, hosted by BETA Technologies and Bristow Group. It was great to witness the remarkable demonstration of BETA’s revolutionary advanced air mobility (AAM) Alia aircraft in action in its electric conventional takeoff and landing version and its electric vertical takeoff and landing version. The partnership between two esteemed HAI member companies exemplifies a strategic collaboration that harnesses their unique expertise to amplify value creation, optimize operational efficiencies, and ignite a culture of innovation. Seeing Beta’s AAM aircraft alongside the helicopters in Bristow’s hangar epitomized a glimpse into the future of aviation.
HAI looks forward to the growth of the vertical flight industry.