FAA Reauthorization Bill Clear for Takeoff

Airplane/Getty images FTiare

After three failed attempts, the bid to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board cleared its first major hurdle on Thursday when the Senate voted to consider the bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senate Commerce Committee ranking member, released a statement following the vote.

“Today the Senate in an overwhelming bipartisan show of support voted to proceed to consideration of my bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act,” Cruz said. “I am proud to be working with Chairwoman [Maria] Cantwell, and with the House of Representatives, on this incredibly important effort to making flying a safer and more convenient experience for Texans and for consumers across the nation.”

“This bill continues many provisions that I fought for, which will help grow Texas’s thriving aerospace sector. It will also improve aviation safety, the primary mission of the FAA and something I know that all of us care deeply about. We have a lot of work ahead in the coming days, but I’m proud of the Senate for taking this step today to begin working together to pass this bill into law,” Cruz said.

He highlighted some provisions of the bill that would benefit Texas, including one that would fund an unmanned drone program to help fight wildfires in the state. Texas colleges seeking to develop aviation-related curricula and workforce development programs would also benefit from the bill. In addition, the unmanned aircraft system test range operated by Texas A&M in Corpus Christi would get operational upgrades.

Among the most contentious provisions was the addition of five new long-haul routes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. Some lawmakers from the area opposed the measure, but the provision passed in the Senate bill. According to reporting by The Hill, that particular item may face trouble in the House when the reauthorization bill is taken up.

The proposed language for the bill announced earlier in the week follows months of negotiations between Senate Commerce Committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cruz, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) and ranking member Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA).

The bill includes $105 billion in taxpayer spending over the next five years for the FAA to improve aviation safety, grow the aviation workforce, improve consumer protections, improve aircraft accessibility, expand service to small airports, modernize the National Airspace System, and continue research and development.

It also authorizes $738 million in appropriations for the National Transportation Safety Board over the next five years to empower the agency with additional workforce training and new investigative authorities.

“By getting a five-year reauthorization agreement for both FAA and NTSB, Congress is showing that aviation safety and stronger consumer standards are a big priority,” said Cantwell in a press release. “More FAA safety inspectors, mandates on near miss technology and 25-hour cockpit voice recorders, and FAA upgrades to its systems ensure the gold standard in safety. It is also the first major upgrade to air traffic controller hiring in decades. Plus, it sets into law for the first time the right to a refund when flights have been canceled or delayed more than three hours.”

Congress has until May 10 to pass the reauthorization bill.

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