After overcoming some procedural blocks, the Senate began consideration on Thursday of legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some 100 amendments have been introduced and more are expected, however, it is anticipated that action on the measure could be completed as early as the end of next week. Extraneous issues such as the extension of several expired tax provisions could slow things down but compromises are being worked out to keep the legislation on track. The nearly two-year authorization provides a $400 million increase in 2017 for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) but does not lift the volume cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) program. The AIP and PFC are the main funding and financing mechanisms for airport and runway infrastructure projects. Prior to the committee’s consideration, AGC sent a letter supporting the increase in the AIP and asking for the Senate to consider an increase in the PFC as the legislative process moves forward.
The bill does not include privatization of the nation’s air traffic control operations which is a priority for House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and kept companion legislation from moving forward in the House. The Senate bill also differs from the House bill in that it directs FAA to create risk-based, consensus industry standards for drones, including a streamlined certification process for smaller drones. The bill would also reauthorize and expand exemption authority for FAA to authorize operations in the national airspace – it also makes explicit the FAA has the authority to approve nighttime and beyond-line-of-sight operations (a position supported by AGC).