UPDATE: On September 26, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelming approved the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (H.R. 302) on a 398 to 23 bipartisan vote. The Senate plans to take up the bill before the current extension expires on Sunday, September 30.
On September 22, U.S. House and Senate Transportation Committee leaders reached an agreement on a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill (H.R. 302) that would reauthorize the program for five years. The House is expected to take up the measure as early as Wednesday, September 26, with the Senate potentially following soon after as Congress works to pass a reauthorization before the current extension expires on September 30.
The bill addresses several issues important to counties, including the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and noise mitigation measures. In addition, the bill provides $1.7 billion in hurricane relief funding and includes the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, which would reform Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs aimed to help communities prepare, respond and recover from natural disasters.
Below are highlights from the bill of interest to counties:
- Passenger Facility Charges (PFC): The PFC cap will remain at $4.50, despite calls from many airports to raise the cap. Instead, the bill would require a study on PFCs that are added to airfare for airport construction.
- Essential Air Service (EAS) program: EAS would receive $155 million for FY 2018 and up to $172 million in FY 2023. The EAS program expands access to air travel by providing subsides to airlines serving rural airports in small communities.
- Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP): SCASDP would receive $153 million for FY 2018 and up to $168 million in FY 2023. SCASDP is a grant program designed to help small communities address air service and airfare issues.
- Airport Improvement Program (AIP): AIP would receive level funding of $3.35 billion from FY 2018 through FY 2023. AIP provides federal grants to airports for capital improvement project.
- Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS/drones): The bill expands the use of model aircrafts by allowing operators to fly at night, beyond visual line of sight and over people. However, the bill would require model aircraft operators, including hobbyists, to pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test. Additionally, the bill directs the Comptroller General of the United States to study the potential role of local government regarding UAS regulations.
- Noise mitigation: 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.
- Contract Tower Program: The bill would make serval 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 bill would modify the current calculations of the contract towers’ cost-benefit ratios and subsequent payments by requiring a recalculation of the annual cost-benefit ratio of towers partially supported by airports or local governments.
- Passengers Rights: The bill would ban airlines from removing passengers once they have boarded the airplane.
To view an in-depth summary of all of the provisions included in the House-Senate FAA reauthorization bill, click here.