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Fri, Feb 18, 2011

Full Senate Passes FAA Reauthorization Bill

Rockefeller, Hutchison Say The Bill Will Create Jobs, Make Air Travel Safer

The full United States Senate passed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act Thursday. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 87-8.

Senator Rockefeller

“This bill reforms the aviation industry in a way that will help Americans from all walks of life,” said Commerce Committee chair John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV) after the vote. “The bill will support thousands of jobs, strengthen airline safety, and modernize America’s outdated air traffic control system. It offers benefits to both rural airports and large urban airports. It will lead to a better aviation system for all Americans and safer flights. Thankfully, we fought off efforts by some to cut back on rural air service that directly benefits West Virginia airports. Although we must and will reduce the deficit, haphazard cuts will compromise the safety and growth of our aviation system. We can’t ever put safety second. I hope we can work with the House to get a bill to the President’s desk quickly.”

Senator Hutchison

“This important legislation takes concrete steps toward improving our nation’s aviation safety and modernizing our aging air traffic control system,” said Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. “This bill goes a long way to advance and promote our nation’s air travel system and the flying public’s trust in its safety.”

The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act as passed by the Senate would:

  • Strengthen the inspection of airline operations.
  • Require better safety oversight of foreign repair stations.
  • Require the FAA to develop a plan to improve runway safety by providing pilots traffic information in the cockpit, and initiate better processes for tracking and investigating operational errors.
  • Improve safety for helicopter emergency medical service operations by mandating that the FAA standardize dispatch procedures, requiring the use of terrain awareness and warning systems, and making certain flight data and cockpit voice recorders are on board medical helicopters.

The bill includes several provisions to modernize the nation’s air transportation system, and to ensure that the FAA adopts the next generation of air traffic control technology in a timely and effective manner. The bill would:

  • Establish clear deadlines for the adoption of existing Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) navigation and surveillance technology. For example, the bill requires the development of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) and Area Navigation (RNAV) procedures at the busiest 35 airports by 2014, and for the entire National Airspace System (NAS) by 2018.
  • Direct the FAA to accelerate planned timelines for integrating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology into the NAS.
  • Create an “Air Traffic Control Modernization Oversight Board” to provide better oversight of FAA’s modernization programs.
  • Establish a “Chief NextGen Officer” position at FAA to oversee implementation of all NextGen programs, and provide greater accountability over the modernization process.

Chairman Rockefeller included key provisions in the bill to strengthen the federal government’s commitment to small community air service. Those provisions include:

  • Improve the Essential Air Service (EAS) program by allowing communities greater flexibility in attracting desired air service, including: (1) permitting new financial incentives into contracts with EAS carriers to encourage better service; (2) allowing longer-term EAS contracts if such an arrangement is in the public interest; (3) allowing the development of incentives for large airlines to code-share on service to small communities; and (4) requiring large airlines to code-share on EAS flights in up to 10 communities.
  • Establish an Office of Rural Aviation within the Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus on the development of longer-term EAS contracts.
  • Extend a provision that raises the federal share for certain small airport improvement projects to 95 percent.

The House version of the bill has cleared the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and will next go for markup in the Committee on Ways and Means. Once a bill is passed by the full house, the two must be reconciled by a conference committee, which is where previous versions of the bill have stalled.

FMI: www.senate.gov


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