This bill — known as the 21st Century AIRR Act — would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six years, reform FAA regulations, fund airport infrastructure, and transition the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system from federal control to an independent not-for-profit. It would also look to ensure that general aviation users continue to have unrestricted access to airports and airspace, enact consumer oriented reforms, and establish processes for integrating drones safely into the aviation system.
Air Traffic Control Reform
This bill would establish a federally-chartered, fully independent, not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernize the nation’s air traffic control services known as the American Air Navigation Services Corporation. The not-for-profit corporation would no longer be under the FAA’s control and will receive no federal funding or financial backing. Air traffic controllers would be transferred over to the new service over a three-year period, with the Dept. of Transportation overseeing the transition.
The new ATC provider would have the following features:
It’d be structured like a business, with a CEO and a board of directors who are nominated by the aviation system’s stakeholders and users — such as commercial pilots, general aviation, airports, air traffic controllers, and various categories of air carriers
It’d be able to access capital markets, develop capital plans, and make investments to develop and deploy a modern ATC system.
It’d be able to work with air traffic controllers collaboratively to test, evaluate, and deliver safe and efficient technologies.
This bill would refocus the FAA on its safety mission, and its safety workforce receive enhanced training. Voluntary safety reporting programs for pilots would be strengthened, with reports automatically accepted until a committee can meet and review them. Currently those reports may go unreviewed for weeks.
The FAA would be directed to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other countries on standards for improving the tracking of aircraft over oceans. It would also be required to initiate a study of aircraft data access and retrieval technologies to determine if the technologies provide improved access and retrieval of aircraft data and cockpit voice recordings in the event of an aircraft accident.
The Airport Infrastructure Program, which funds critical infrastructure construction at airports, would receive $3.424 billion in funding for fiscal year 2018. That funding would gradually rise year-over-year to $3.817 billion in fiscal year 2023. Restrictions on the Passenger Facility Charge would be eased to give airports more flexibility in financing airport projects, and the PFC application process would be streamlined.
The FAA would be required to study the potential health impacts of overflight noise and consider the feasibility of changing current departure procedures over noise sensitive areas.
This bill would enact numerous consumer reforms, including:
Involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded would be prohibited.
The use of cell phones and mobile devices for voice communications during commercial flights would be prohibited.
The FAA would be directed to establish minimum seat size requirements including width, length, and pitch necessary for passenger health and safety.
Airlines would need to transparently show what government-imposed taxes and fees are added to the base fare of a passenger’s ticket.
Airlines would be required to post a prominent link on their website if there’s a widespread disruption of their computer systems detailing hotel accommodations, ground transportation, other airport arrangements, and meal vouchers for affected passengers.
Large and medium commercial airports would be required to provide clean, private rooms for nursing mothers in every terminal.
This bill would enact several provisions related to unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drones):.
An air carrier certificate and streamlined permitting process for operators of small drones would be established, as would a risk-based permitting process would be established for commercial drone operators.
Implementation of a low-altitude aircraft system management system would be sped up.
The Dept. of Transportation would be required to conduct studies on the privacy implication of drone operations, and the potential roles of state and local governments in regulating drones.
Restrictions on access to airspace for the general aviation (GA) community would be prohibited, and GA aircraft operators (often hobbyists and small businesses) would be exempt from paying a user fee — although they’d continue to pay to support the Airport Improvement Program. GA users would be prominently represented in the new ATC provider’s governance structure.