Aviation in 2016: A Look Back at Influential Policies, Initiatives, and Events

Here are our brief thoughts on some of the year’s influential aviation news from 2016:

Small Drone Regulations Released Under 14 CFR Part 107
The last several years have seen the vast applications for unmanned aircraft surge, and integrating these craft into the national airspace system has been a major priority. FAA’s new regulations for commercial UAS aircraft weighing 55 pounds or less cover operational limitations, remote pilot certification and responsibilities, aircraft requirements, and new waiver provisions. Approximately 95% of small commercial UAS operations can be conducted without a waiver to the regulations.

Operators generally agree these rules are fair and provide broad ability to seek commercial opportunities without the burden of the prior exemption process. The FAA continues research and analysis in order to fully integrate drones of all capabilities.

Third-class Medical Reform
General aviation organizations nationwide celebrated a long-sought victory to change burdensome aeromedical certification regulations for certain pilots when President Obama signed into law an FAA authorization bill that included third-class medical reform. These new rules are expected to take effect mid-January 2017.

Now pilots of aircraft under 6,000-pounds with five or fewer passenger seats who operate day or night VFR or IFR up to 18,000 feet without compensation can manage their medical with their primary care physician if they’ve held a valid medical certificate any time in the decade prior to July 15, 2016. Pilots will pass an online course every two years and certain health conditions still require FAA review.

This is hopefully a great way for more folks to keep flying.

Updated 14 CFR Part 23 Certification Rules for Small Airplanes
The FAA’s new small airplane certification rules will move the process from detailed design procedures to performance and consensus-based standards for airplanes with maximum takeoff weight of 19,000 pounds or less. This change will streamline the certification timeline – and costs – and encourage product innovation. The result of this collaborative process among regulators, manufacturers, designers, and elected officials is hopefully a great step in continued industry recovery. Finalized in December 2016, the new regulations are expected to take effect in August 2017.

FAA’s NextGen Progress
The FAA continued its NextGen implementation for performance and satellite based air traffic control and aircraft navigation by 2021. This year saw DataComm complete at 56 air traffic control towers, the ADS-B rebate program for general aviation aircraft owners, hundreds of new and updated terminal and enroute instrument procedures and redesigned Metroplex airspace for more direct and efficient routing, findings of wake turbulence analysis to improve simultaneous runway operational capability, and advances in airport surface operations data communications.

Santa Monica Airport, California
Santa Monica City Council in August passed a resolution to close their very busy general aviation airport near Los Angeles. Organized collective municipal protests of airport noise, pollution, and safety and calls for airport closure have been a mainstay in the community for decades. Of issue to the City, however, is the FAA’s decision that the terms of federal grants accepted by the City for airport improvements in 2003 obligate the City to keep the airport operational for 20 years. The City then issued eviction notices to commercial airport tenants Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers, as well as took steps to turn away other existing tenants. The FAA issued a cease-and-desist order to halt the evictions.

The course of action and precedent with the Santa Monica Airport will have far-reaching effects for airport sponsors across the country.

Air Traffic Control Privatization Debated in Congress.
Largely an airlines versus everyone else in the national airspace debate as of 2016, the initiative to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system was tabled from the FAA’s authorization bill this year in favor of more time to research the long-term potential effects and benefits.

Check out opinion pieces from the New York Times and The Hill.

Other notable mentions

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