CNCounty News

EAS, airplane noise, drones addressed in FAA bill

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House reauthorizes FAA for five years, gives $153 to Essential Air Service and Small Community Air Service Development Program for FY18 

Update: After publication, the House passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Learn More


The proposed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders April 13, would reauthorize the FAA for another five years and addresses several issues important to counties such as the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — AKA drones — the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and noise mitigation measures.

 The agency is currently operating on a short-term authorization through Sept. 30. 

The Essential Air Service (EAS) program, a long-standing NACo priority, assists airlines in serving rural counties by connecting them with larger transportation hubs.

Learn More

NACo fact sheet on FAA reauthorization

The EAS program would receive $153 million for FY2018 and up to $168 million in the final year (FY2023) of authorization under the new bill.

In addition, the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP) would be funded at $153 million for FY2018 and up to $168 million in FY2023.

Participation in SCASDP is limited to communities where the airport is not larger than a primary small hub, the service is insufficient and the air fares to the community are unreasonably high.

Another NACo priority, the Airport Improvement Grant Program (AIP), provides federal grants to airports for airport development and planning. AIP funding can support a range of airports, including small general aviation airports.

AIP provides funds for capital projects without the financial burden of debt financing, although airports are required to provide a local match of between 5 percent and 25 percent, depending on the airport size and eligible costs.

The FAA bill would provide stable funding for AIP of $3.35 billion for airport funding from FY2018 through FY2023.

Also included in the bill is language acknowledging NACo’s call for greater local government involvement in the development and implementation of policy regarding unmanned aerial systems within their boundaries.

NACo has been at the forefront of the FAA Drone Advisory Committee, the federal advisory board consulting on drone policy, and through these efforts has made a compelling case for local governments to play a role in the regulatory process. It directs the Department of Transportation to study local government’s potential role.

This inclusion into the FAA Reauthorization bill further cements counties’ important role. Noise mitigation, another key priority, is also addressed in the FAA Reauthorization Act. The bill would require the FAA to study the potential health impacts of overflight noise and consider the feasibility of amending current departure procedures for noise sensitive communities.

Counties are sometimes faced with flightpath noise disturbances, and this federal investment would make resources available to address this issue. Finally, the bill would make several amendments to the contract tower program, which gives private firms the ability to operate air traffic control towers and accounts for around half of the towers owned and operated by FAA. The new bill would modify the current calculation of contract towers’ cost-benefit ratios and subsequent payments by requiring a recalculation of the annual cost-benefit ratio of towers in part supported by airports or local governments.

Other provisions in the bill address passenger rights, including banning airlines from removing passengers once they have boarded the airplane, to new requirements for facilities allowing mothers to nurse at various sized airports.

Counties own 34 percent of the nation’s publicly owned airports.

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