FAA Reauthorization and Regulatory Updates

Current FAA reauthorization expires in September and House Transportation and Senate Commerce Committees have been discussing significant and sweeping items of interest, namely air traffic control (ATC) privatization and passenger facility charge (PFC) increases. Here’s hoping we’ll have a long-term funding plan this year instead of 20+ continuing resolutions!

Likewise with the flurry of activity in the new Administration’s first few months in office, its first budget draft includes some unfortunate proposals for airports, including eliminating Essential Air Service, which supports air service to more than 175 underserved and rural communities across the US, proposed elimination of law enforcement officer reimbursement to commercial service airports, and no direct fix on the current diversion of part of the aviation security fees on passenger tickets. The $1 trillion infrastructure package has few details on how it would be applied to airport development, though leveraging public funds with private investment is a cornerstone. The intent of rebuilding infrastructure generally has bipartisan support, though it remains to be seen what a final bill may contain. 

The initiative of regulatory reform does offer some positive potential for many government processes, those relating to the aviation industry in particular, and follows the Administration’s goal of repealing two regulations for every new one implemented. The FAA just tasked the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee to identify burdensome regulations and statues that are inconsistent, outdated, unnecessarily costly, or inhibit job growth, and recommend associated reforms. Input by AAAE and ACI-NA will include a comprehensive review of airport-specific issues to be considered.

An executive order streamlining environmental requirements for certain infrastructure projects was signed in January, establishing a process by which a governor, federal agency head, or Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality can request a project be designated as ‘high priority’. A high-priority project will have accelerated review and approval timelines.  Details are not yet available on specifically how this proposed policy might affect environmental requirements for airport projects or projects not designated as high priority.

Among the most pivotal and conspicuous concerns before Congress this summer are undoubtedly:

The President met with airline and airport executives in February to discuss funding, ATC privatization, and other key issues, and appears to support privatization initiative in the Administration’s FY2018 budget proposal. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster visited NavCanada in March, the nation’s private air traffic control service governed by a 15-member board, to learn more about the transfer from public to private and the ongoing operations. This issue was tabled last year in reauthorization hearings, but is a familiar debate. Champions of the proposal cite long-awaited NextGen technology for more efficient air traffic routing and reduced costs to users, while critics disagree with the characterization that a private organization can fully implement NextGen quicker than the FAA, and are wary of an airline-dominated board of directors edging out of general aviation aircraft by way of increased fees 

Everyone wants better airports, and the PFC program gives local airports the funding and flexibility to make meaningful improvements to enhance passenger experiences. For most commercial service airports, the PFC is a way to lessen the divide between available federal funding for capital projects and critical development needs. A bipartisan House bill currently proposes to eliminate the PFC rate cap in exchange for Airport Improvement Program funding reduction of $3.35 billion to $2.95 billion. This reduction would still include minimum entitlement funding for non and small-hub airports at $1 million and non-primary entitlements at $150,000. US airlines continue to be adamantly opposed to such a fee, citing the PFC as an onerous tax on passengers.

In other aviation regulatory news:

The FAA's unmanned aircraft requirement to register model aircraft and recreational drones was invalidated by US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last week. According to analysis by law firm Dentons, it’s possible that Congress may include similar registration requirements in the upcoming FAA Reauthorization if they feel strongly enough about the safety aspect of FAA’sprocess. 

The House passed a bill to enhance airport employee security requirements in response to the very real insider threat. As Eddie Mayenschein of TSA’s Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement said during the AAAE Southeast Chapter’s annual conference last month in Knoxville, the insider threat is the single most significant vulnerability facing security professionals and policy makers. Jeff Price, noted aviation security expert and Owner of Leading Edge Strategies, has been writing about this increasing threat and potential solutions for years, and believes the procedures are necessary to screen airport staff, but likely will become additional unfunded mandates.

The laptop ban on electronic devices larger than a cell phone in the cabin of aircraft traveling from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa was enacted in March with the UK following suit soon after. Presumably faced with the potential that would-be bombers would elect to travel via a connecting European airport, the Administration has indicated it may extend the ban to flights from European airports, as well, though further discussions are expected this week.

Third-class medical reform for general aviation pilots, dubbed BasicMed, was overhauled last year and new requirements went into effect last month. AOPA reports thousands of pilots are already taking advantage of the new rule and its efficiencies.

NBAA's motion to grant an injunction at Santa Monica Municipal Airport to prevent the shortening of its 4,973-foot runway to 3,500 feet was dismissed last week, but the decision also turned over the legality issue of the agreement between FAA and City of Santa Monica to a merits panel for review.

Aircraft certification reforms are back in front of legislators to modernize regulatory requirements to facilitate innovation and competition in aerospace manufacturing

 

We’ll continue to deliver updates via social media as well as synthesize new regulatory activity as we hear and evaluate it. For updates on MaesAwyr and aviation industry news, subscribe to our newsletter and connect with us on Facebook and LinkedIn, or drop us a line to let us know your thoughts or ask a question.

 

MaesAwyr, LLC is an airport planning and development consultancy specializing in airport infrastructure projects, airspace evaluation, capital planning and programming, and UAS at airports.