The Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (AIRR), which proposes to create a new private, non-profit corporation to run the nation’s Air Traffic Control system, made quite a splash when it was announced earlier this month. AIRR has continued to move forward, passing another important milestone when it was formally marked up and reported favorably out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. During this mark-up process, the Committee considered 75 amendments and approved more than half of them.

Among the most interesting amendments is a proposal by Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) to require the FAA to create a new air carrier certificate that would be required for any UAS business involved in the transportation of property, i.e. package delivery. This would be similar to the types of air carrier certificates that are required for airlines and charter operators. It would also establish a much higher level of FAA oversight for such business, and would create a barrier to entry into the package delivery field.

An amendment was also made to create a “micro-UAS” classification for all vehicles weighing under 4.4 pounds. The vehicles would be limited to 40 knots, and would have other restrictions on their use similar to those placed on model aircraft, such as visual line of sight, daylight hours, etc. The bill also states that micro-UAS operators would not have to pass any aeronautical tests or “meet any age or experience requirement,” nor could the FAA require that micro-UAS comply with any airworthiness certification standards.

The bill was also amended to make it easier for insurers to use UAS after a national disaster. It requires the FAA to “suspend, for an insurance provider, Federal restrictions and requirements that would otherwise apply to operations of unmanned aircraft systems in disaster impacted areas,” which are defined as any place declared a disaster area under state or federal law. There are also a number of amendments requiring the FAA to engage in rulemaking on a wide range of topics, including the operation of UAS near chemical facilities, oil refineries and “amusement facilities.”

There were also changes made to the AIRR that would, at best, be described as trivial. For example, there was an amendment to redefine smoking to include electronic cigarettes, an amendment that prevents any air carrier from charging a fee to use a bathroom on a plane, and a requirement that the Oklahoma Aircraft Registration Office stay open during any government shutdown.

What is most noteworthy, however, is what did not get amended. The Air Traffic Control system privatization proposal made it through the mark-up largely unchanged. While it looks at this point like the AIRR will pass the House on a largely party-line vote, it is not clear what the Senate will be willing to agree to or what their Reauthorization bill would contain. As a result, any efforts by the House and Senate to hammer out a compromise could be very time-consuming.

Originally posted February 18, 2016