Early this morning, the House of Representatives passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization, also known as the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935), with a largely bipartisan vote of 351-69. This followed a late-night session on Wednesday where the House debated over 100 amendments to bill.
One of the most contentious issues of the reauthorization surrounds the so-called perimeter rule at Reagan National Airport. This rule, which dates back to the early 1960s, limits the number of flights that can land at the local Washington DC airport from destinations more than 1,250 miles away. Both the support for, and opposition to, adding more flights to Reagan National beyond the 1,250 miles limit has been bipartisan. In general , the local senators and representatives have been staunchly opposed to adding any flights, citing issues with overcrowding at the airport, delays, and safety. Conversely, senators and representatives from jurisdictions outside the limit, in particular, Texas, have cited fairness issues, particularly given the number of military personnel who are denied the ability to fly directly from cities such as San Antonio. There has been a push in the Senate to add as many as 32 new flights to Reagan National Airport, which local Senators have claimed will derail the entire reauthorization. A proposed amendment to the House bill that would have permitted 28 new flights was withdrawn at the last minute, and instead, the House voted on a compromise amendment to add only 7 new flights. After what indisputably was the most contentious debate of the night, the compromise amendment failed by a vote of 205-229.
One of the amendments that did pass struck out proposed changes to the 1,500-hour rule for commercial pilots. The 1,500-hour rule has been roundly criticized over the years as being one of the major contributing factors in the shortage of commercial pilots. The original draft of the bill would have permitted pilots to count up to 150 hours of simulator training towards meeting the requirement. The amendment, struck that provision from the bill, leaving the current 1,500-hour rule unchanged.
It remains to be seen what will happen now that the action has moved to the Senate. The changes to the perimeter rule are still being debated there, and it is unclear what effect the failure of the House “compromise” amendment will be on the Senate. In addition, changes to the 1,500-hour rule for pilots is a key issue, with strong opposition to a proposal that would permit pilots to meet part of this requirement through simulator training. Finally, there are indications that changes to the minimum wage for airport workers is receiving serious consideration.
Once the Senate acts, there will still be contentious negotiations between the House and Senate to reconcile their versions of the reauthorization. As things now stand, it seems unlikely that the reauthorization can be wrapped up before Congress’s August recess, pushing the process closer to the September 30, 2023 date when the current FAA authorization expires.
Regardless of when the Act finally passes, we will bring you a free 90-minute webinar analyzing the final Act and what it means for the aviation industry, so stay tuned!