A busy Congress keeps aviation issues in focus.
Since the last edition of ROTOR, much has transpired that has informed US congressional and White House priorities. Foreign aid, energy security, monetary policy, and several other economic issues have been at the top of the congressional to-do list. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had major ripple effects across the globe that have required close attention and careful responses. And, despite not being at the top of the list, aviation issues remain in focus.
Congress has held discussions on a range of issues over the second quarter of 2022, including aviation noise, 5G interference with radio altimeters, priorities for the 2023 FAA reauthorization bill, and climate change at airports. The appropriations season is in full swing as well, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to testify about the Biden administration’s budget request.
As March drew to a close, the FAA appointed Billy Nolen acting administrator after former administrator Steve Dickson retired. Several other leadership changes have transpired at the agency since Dickson’s retirement, and many senior members of Congress have announced their retirements, adding to what is already expected to be an eventful midterm election.
A Greener Airspace System
Legislators on Capitol Hill have taken a considerable interest in creating a greener, more sustainable airspace system. Sustainable aviation fuel, often referred to as SAF, is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the aviation industry. President Biden recently reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to increasing SAF production and recognized the important role SAF will play in helping the aviation industry achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
HAI has been engaged in several recent initiatives to spur SAF production, and we’re proud to be partners in the Biden administration’s SAF Grand Challenge. Advancing the SAF Grand Challenge as well as the proposed SAF blenders tax credit and SAF grant program, which have passed the House of Representatives and are now pending in the Senate, will enable the federal government and the aviation industry to make significant strides in emissions reduction while supporting US job growth and energy security.
As you may recall, HAI hosted a two-part webinar series in fall 2021 to educate members about SAF’s potential to support a more ecologically sustainable rotorcraft industry. Participants heard from industry experts and helicopter OEM representatives how the alternative fuel can benefit helicopter operators and increase business and how OEMs are exploring SAF’s many capabilities. HAI members walked away from this webinar series with a deeper understanding of how SAF can safely and effectively decarbonize rotorcraft operations. (See p. 42 to learn more about the process of SAF production, distribution, and implementation.)
HAI also proudly supports the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) initiative, a comprehensive, public–private partnership comprising aviation and petroleum industry and US government stakeholders who are working toward transitioning to lead-free aviation fuels for piston-engine aircraft by the end of 2030 without compromising the safety or economic health of the general aviation industry.
The first EAGLE stakeholder meeting, which took place in March, was attended by representatives from aviation associations, aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel distributors, the FAA, and the EPA.
The EAGLE initiative will conduct its activities under four pillars:
- Regulatory and Policy: Determining government policies and processes needed in areas such as fuel authorization, certification, lead emissions standards, and infrastructure as well as conducting outreach to industry stakeholders and international partners.
- Unleaded-Fuel Testing and Qualification: Determining the research, testing, and qualification necessary for a viable, safe, high-octane, unleaded replacement for 100 octane low lead (100LL) avgas and the issuance of an FAA-eligible fleet authorization.
- Research and Development: Determining research and testing, effective and timely certification of advanced technology designs, and evaluation of means of compliance and operational procedures to address the technical challenges associated with high-performance engines and unleaded fuels.
- Business Infrastructure and Implementation: Supporting policy and regulatory proposals for maintaining 100LL availability and airport access to ensure safety during the transition, and supporting standards and regulatory pathways to market for the production, distribution, and servicing of the new unleaded fuel, including government incentive and policy programs.
Legislation Supporting eVTOL and Workforce Development
Several bills have advanced over the past few months focusing on creating policies, procedures, and programs to support future US eVTOL operations and workforce development. HAI has ardently supported this legislation and applauds Congress for prioritizing the future of vertical flight by addressing some of the fundamental issues necessary to make advanced air mobility (AAM) a reality and fostering the success of the next generation of pilots and aviation technicians.
More than 50% of the current science and engineering workforce will soon hit retirement age, according to the FAA. We can’t grow our industry without also cultivating a workforce to maintain it. HAI has had remarkable success working with our industry partners and federal and state governments to promote various aviation workforce development initiatives.
For details on the HAI-supported AAM and workforce development bills that Congress has approved, see “Recent HAI-Backed Legislation,” below.
Air Tours at National Parks
The federal government’s Air Tour Management Plans (ATMPs) will have a significant impact on the air tour segment of our industry. HAI, concerned about the transparency of the drafting process, operational safety, and economic considerations of the plans, launched a campaign to assist members in submitting comments on the proposed ATMPs. The comments outlined the industry’s concern that the ATMP process is moving forward without the involvement of critical stakeholders such as the National Parks Overflights Advisory Group.
Excluding critical stakeholders has yielded plans that contain clear safety issues that would severely curtail the economic viability of the air tour industry. Please share with your elected officials your thoughts on this important matter.
5G Concerns Linger while Progress Made
Aviation and telecommunications industry stakeholders and regulators are working together around the clock to resolve issues surrounding spectrum interference with radio altimeters.
The rotorcraft and business aviation industry are far from out of the woods, but progress is being made on filters that can be installed on aircraft, including helicopters, that will drastically reduce the negative impact of 5G interference. Some suppliers have already begun filling purchase orders for airlines. Production is underway, but supply chain problems and other factors will limit widescale availability in the near term.
Filters may not be a workable solution for all rotorcraft, but they’re just one idea HAI is exploring with our industry and government partners.
We’re also seeking to expand relief for night-vision goggles (NVG) operations; working with our OEM members on technical solutions and alternative means of compliance; and canvassing Capitol Hill to educate members of Congress about the 5G issue and lay the groundwork for relief that may be needed from the legislative branch.
Fortunately, confirmed incident reports of 5G interference involving rotorcraft have been minimal, according to the FAA. As more towers get turned on and new service providers enter the 5G market, we’re optimistic the US government and our industry partners will make the necessary investments to ensure that safety is maintained.
Uncrewed Aircraft System (UAS) Integration
HAI’s helicopter operator members continue to realize the benefits drones can bring to their business and are adding more uncrewed aircraft systems (UASs) to their fleets every year.
As the world’s leading voice for the VTOL industry, HAI has been at the forefront of all major policy discussions related to the integration of drones into the US National Airspace System (NAS).
HAI’s long-standing history of promoting safety in vertical flight has established our organization as a trusted source of information on significant policy proposals. To that end, we recently participated in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), whose formation the agency announced in June 2021.
The ARC primarily comprised UAS manufacturers, suppliers, and operators as opposed to stakeholders from traditional crewed aviation segments. Its members developed recommendations for integrating UAS BVLOS operations into the NAS, and HAI played an important role in pushing back on shortsighted proposals that would compromise safety and erode well-established and widely understood operational norms. One such recommendation in the ARC report that HAI adamantly opposed regards changes to right-of-way rules.
Traditionally, right-of-way is based on maneuverability and the ability to see (detect) and avoid, but the ARC report proposes no detect-and-avoid requirements for UASs and instead places the burden entirely on crewed operators. This omission presents a myriad of safety concerns that HAI outlines in our dissent report at rotor.org/advocacy. Congressional committees took note of HAI’s position on the right-of-way issue and other shortcomings in the BVLOS report when they invited us to brief them within days of the report’s release in March 2022. HAI and other stakeholders are committed to improving these policy proposals before the rulemaking process begins.
With the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act expiring next year, HAI and other aviation organizations are formalizing their priorities for the next FAA reauthorization bill. This is the first step in a long and arduous process of working with Capitol Hill and our industry partners to ensure that the next bill that gets signed into law helps move the industry forward. Safety, sustainability, infrastructure, certification, workforce, and AAM: these are just a handful of the many high-level issues that will be addressed in the legislation.
We encourage HAI members to engage with HAI’s working groups and to reach out directly to HAI’s Government Affairs team on the issues that matter to you. Contact us at [email protected] for assistance. Next year may seem like a long way off, but we have a lot of ground to cover with a new Congress.
Our Request of You
During this stretch of the legislative calendar before the August recess, Congress will look to get as many of their legislative priorities over the finish line as possible so they have ample time to spend on the campaign trail.
Now is a great time to contact your elected officials and set up a meeting with them. Whether or not you have a personal relationship with your members of Congress, connecting with them can be highly beneficial. One of the best ways to develop or strengthen a relationship with your elected officials is to invite them on a tour of your business.
HAI has helped facilitate tours for representatives and their staffs at HAI member companies on many occasions, and we’re always here to assist in the process. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like us to help facilitate a congressional-delegation tour of your facility! Contact us at [email protected] for assistance.
Remember, elected officials expect to hear from their constituents about the opportunities and challenges they face. HAI members have great stories to tell about how their work in the vertical flight industry contributes to society.
As your trade association, HAI advocates for your interests before legislators and regulators. But we need you, our members, to help form those personal connections!