Safety, maintaining US leadership in aviation are priorities as Congress works toward developing a final bill.

HAI has been discussing this issue since 2018 and now, it is finally here: the FAA reauthorization bill. This is the perfect year to advocate for vertical aviation to ensure that the policy written moves our industry forward. If you’re a self-proclaimed policy geek and an aviation enthusiast, this topic is for you.

A Complex Process

The FAA reauthorization process is essentially what it sounds like: Congress providing the FAA the authority to function, which expires at the end of September. The process is relatively straightforward, with the House and Senate developing their own versions of the bill and resolving their differences, after which Congress takes a vote and the president signs the bill into law.

While it may sound simple, passage of the reauthorization bill is much more complex than it might appear.

House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.-06) says his goal is to craft the reauthorization bill by Jul. 1. Meanwhile, Aviation Subcommittee chair Garret Graves (R-La.-06) is leading the subcommittee’s work on the multiple hearings the committee is planning to hold to discuss a wide range of policy issues.

Now that the committee leadership has been established, the T&I Committee has formally commenced its work on the FAA’s reauthorization bill by holding its first hearing. During the hearing’s opening remarks, Chair Sam Graves emphasized that the committee continues to have a bipartisan commitment toward safety and that its members intend to maintain US leadership as the gold standard for aviation safety.

Graves also said during the hearing that general aviation is the safest it’s ever been, crediting Congress and the FAA’s partnership with industry, labor, and the traveling public with continuing efforts to make air travel safe and efficient. However, Graves referred to recent incidents that reemphasize why getting an FAA reauthorization done on time is critical, commenting that “these incidents show that even after the safest decade in our history, our aviation system clearly needs urgent attention. The FAA needs to mitigate risks before accidents happen. The committee will be reviewing all such recommendations while reauthorizing the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] as part of the FAA bill.”

Rep. Garret Graves conveyed similar concerns, remarking that despite safety improvements, “alarm bells should be going off across the aviation industry.” He noted that the nation’s aviation system is stretched and stressed to capacity, and that demand is projected to increase. Therefore, Congress and the FAA need to be proactive about meeting growing demands, he noted, because there are fundamental transformations on the horizon for the National Airspace System (NAS), including more drones, electric aircraft (including eVTOL), the reintroduction of civil supersonic aircraft, and the expanded use of commercial space transportation vehicles. Thus, he added, the FAA must maintain the nation’s outstanding record on aviation safety while also facilitating innovative technologies and entrants into the market.

Bipartisanship Approach

Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-Wash.-02) of the full committee and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.-09) of the subcommittee are working closely with the majority to ensure that the committee takes a bipartisan approach to the reauthorization process. Even the meetings HAI has had with congressional staff to discuss our priorities for the bill have been joint meetings, with both the majority and minority members. Furthermore, the committee has announced its intention to include a general aviation section in the bill.

On the Senate side, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has jurisdiction, and Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has directed the committee full steam into FAA reauthorization hearings. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, with Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) serving as ranking member.

The Senate Commerce Committee started its work with the hearing “Strengthening Airline Operations and Consumer Protections,” followed by another hearing titled “The Federal Aviation Administration’s NOTAM System Failure and Its Impacts on a Resilient National Airspace.” In the latter hearing, FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen detailed the failure of the agency’s computerized NOTAM system that led to a ground stop of flight departures in January 2023.

Chair Cantwell said the FAA “needs to get it right on modernizing its technology and infrastructure.” She added, “For the United States to be the leader in aviation, we must set the global standard for aviation safety.” Subcommittee Chair Duckworth submitted questions to the FAA inquiring how the agency and the Federal Communications Commission are cooperating to prevent a future problem with 5G.

For his part in the hearing, Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the committee “is going to examine the FAA’s record on questions of safety [and] on the failure of the NOTAM system that resulted in thousands of flights being canceled, and I also expect it’s going to highlight the very real consequences for air travel and safety of being more than two years into an administration without a confirmed FAA administrator.”

HAI’s Work in Advocating for Members’ Interests

Clearly, safety and preserving the FAA as the gold standard are a priority for both the House and the Senate. HAI is working with the committees in both chambers to advocate for our members’ priorities in the large reauthorization bill. HAI submitted written testimony for the initial House hearing, providing our stance on the most pressing safety issues facing the vertical aviation industry today, including leadership, FAA preemption authority, infrastructure, technology, UAS (uncrewed aircraft system) beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations, performance-based requirements, and airspace access, as well as spectrum policy, workforce development, a commitment to safety, and the role of the National Parks Overflights Advisory Group in the development of air tour management plans (ATMPs).

Congress must pass the reauthorization bill by the end of September. In order to do so, the committees involved will hold multiple hearings to discuss a wide range of issues. The chairs of both committees will produce their separate versions of a base bill. As that base bill then moves forward through the committee process, other members will submit amendments in an attempt to get their priority items attached to the overall bill.

Once the House and Senate have each settled on its version of the reauthorization bill, the chambers then need to work together to merge the two different versions into one. This is typically done through conference, where staff determine where agreement exists on priorities and generate one version of the bill that both the House and the Senate can approve. It’s an intensive process, requiring long staff hours to shepherd the bill to the finish line.

If Congress can’t submit a final reauthorization bill by the end of September, it will be forced to pass an extension, which puts the agency essentially on status quo until Congress can pass the bill. Both Senate committee chair Cantwell and House committee chair Graves have set aggressive schedules for the completion of the legislative work, and both leaders have publicly stated their commitment to wrapping up the bill this year. HAI will continue to work with the committees throughout this process to ensure that the voice of the vertical aviation industry is represented and heard.

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Cade Clark

Cade Clark

VAI’s chief government affairs officer, Cade Clark has directed association advocacy programs for over 20 years. Growing up, he worked at an FBO where Cade learned to fly, washed planes, got in the mechanics’ way, idolized the old-timers and their stories, and deepened his love for all things general aviation.

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