Originally posted June 27, 2017



It’s that time of year again.  As the clock runs out on last year’s FAA reauthorization, both the House and Senate are scrambling to stake out their priorities.  Here is a sneak peek at some of the Congressional initiatives that may shape the future of aviation:

The Drone Federalism Act:  This law, jointly proposed by Democrats Diane Feinstein (CA) and Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Republicans Mike Lee (UT) and Tom Cotton (AR), proposes to carve out a large swath of the lower levels of the national airspace and give state and local governments broader powers to regulate aviation activity in these areas.  If enacted, it would represent the first major roll-back of the FAA’s near total control over aviation and could have broad implications for the ability to the FAA to fully integrate UAS into the airspace system.

21st Century AIRR Act:  This is the House of Representatives’ version of the FAA Reauthorization Act.  At 334 pages, the current draft of the bill covers an enormous range of topics, including:

  1. Privatization of the air traffic control system: The bill calls for the creation of an independent, not-for-profit air traffic control service in the United States.
  2. Streamlining and reforming of the FAA certification process: Creates a Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee to coordinate between FAA and industry, improves training for FAA inspectors, and gives manufacturers greater authority under their delegated certification authorities.
  3. Strengthens ASAP: The Aviation Safety Action Program is designed to encourage voluntary safety reporting without fear of repercussions.
  4. Requires FAA Policy Updates: The bill instructs the FAA to address pilot rest and duty rules for Part 135 operators, the transportation of lithium ion batteries, and cyber security.
  5. UAS Policy Changes: Includes the creation of UAS air carrier certificates and the preparation of a DOT privacy study, and encourages development of sense and avoid technology.

Senate FAA Reauthorization Bill:  Although it does not have a snappy name like the House version, the Senate’s version of the Act is still an impressive 314 pages, covering:

  1. No ATC privatization: The differences between the House and Senate on this issue are lining up the same as last year, when the proposal was defeated.  This year, however, President Trump has already come out in favor of the idea.  Will it be enough to tip the balance?
  2. UAS Policy Changes: Criminalizes “reckless” drone activity near manned aircraft and airports and gives the FAA new authority to create a drone registration system.
  3. Streamlining and reforming of the FAA certification process: Similar to the House version, the Senate is also seeking to further reform the FAA’s certification process.
  4. Increases in funding: Provides an additional $400 million for the Airports Improvement Program
  5. Passenger Rights: Stops carriers from denying passenger boarding after a gate attendant has approved it, unless there is a legitimate safety or security reason.