This bill would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for five years while implementing reforms to streamline regulatory processes, improve aviation safety and customer service, modernize airport infrastructure, address airport noise, and integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) into the national airspace. It would also include provisions reforming disaster assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to place a greater emphasis on mitigation.
Disaster Assistance Reform
This section of the bill would reform FEMA and the Stafford Act, which provide grants for disaster recovery, to ensure that 15% of recovery funding goes toward mitigation activities to lessen the impact of future disasters (no more than 10% could be used by the grantee or 5% by the subgrantee). Mitigation assistance would be available for activities to reduce the risk of future damage, hardship, loss, or suffering in any area affected by a wildfire, windstorm, or earthquake. FEMA would be required to consider severe local impacts when evaluating a major disaster declaration, ensuring a more level playing field for smaller communities impacted by disasters.
State and local governments would be reimbursed for direct and indirect administrative costs incurred to implement disaster recovery projects. Incentives would be developed to encourage state, local, and tribal governments to closeout recovery expenditures and activities on a timely basis.
Certain disaster assistance debts could be waived if the assistance was distributed based on a FEMA error, there was no fault on the debtor’s behalf, and debt collection would be against equity and good conscience. There would be a three year statute of limitations for FEMA to recover household and individual assistance in cases where there is no evidence of fraud, waste, or abuse. The dispute resolution pilot program would be extended to 2022.
Enhancing Aviation Safety
This section would ensure the FAA’s safety workforce is utilized efficiently while enhancing safety workforce training and strengthening voluntary safety reporting programs for pilots (the Aviation Safety Action Program or ASAP). ASAP reports would be automatically accepted until they can be reviewed by a special committee.
The FAA would be required to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization and other countries on developing standards to improve the tracking of aircraft over oceans. The FAA would be required to start 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.
A Lithium Ion Battery Safety Advisory Committee would be established to foster collaboration between DOT and relevant federal and international agencies to address the packaging, shipping, and development of safety standards for transporting lithium ion batteries by air.
A rulemaking committee would be established to review and provide recommendations on pilot rest and duty rules for pilots. It would also extend training requirements for recognizing signs of human trafficking to frontline airline personnel.
Addressing Airport Noise Concerns
This section would provide the FAA with a number of tools, methods, and strategies to mitigate the impact of airport noise and the communities neighboring airports. It would also require the FAA to study the potential health impacts of overflight noise, consider the feasibility of amending existing departure procedures over noise sensitive communities, and produce a study which considers phasing out the operation of the noisiest small aircraft.
Improving Customer Service
This section would prohibit involuntary bumping of passengers once they have already boarded the plane and instruct the Secretary of Transportation to clarify current regulations regarding compensation offered in instances of involuntary denied boarding.
The use of cell phones and mobile devices for voice communications during commercial flights would be prohibited. Airlines would have to be transparent about government-imposed taxes and fees which are added to the base fare of a ticket. It would also take steps to ensure consumers can voice complaints through the consumer complaints hotline and by using new technologies, such as smartphone applications, to relay these complaints.
In the event of a widespread disruption to an airline’s computer systems, the airline would be required to post via a prominent link on their website what services the airline will provide impacted passengers.
The DOT would be required to address issues regarding restroom accessibility, service animals onboard planes, and in-flight entertainment systems for passengers with disabilities. It would also be required to carry out studies regarding airport accessibility, airline employee training, and in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
Integrating Unmanned AIrcraft System
This section of the bill would establish processes to accelerate the implementation of low-altitude UAS air traffic management (UTM) system. It would also expedite deployment of commercial drones by creating a risk-based permitting process, and foster development of sense-and-avoid technology at UAS test ranges. The FAA would be required to publish information on approved small drone waivers and airspace authorizations and to provide real time data on application status.
The DOT Inspector General (IG) would be required to assess the FAA’s small UAS registration system and require FAA to develop and track metrics to assess compliance with and effectiveness of the system. The IG would also study the potential roles of state and local governments.
Streamlining Regulatory Processes
The FAA’s certification process for aircraft and aircraft parts would be streamlined to eliminate unnecessary delays and help U.S. companies get their products to market on time while ensuring the safety of the system.
A Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee (SOCAC) would be created to collaborate with industry on streamlining certification and regulatory processes; work with manufacturers to ensure the FAA can meet future needs of the aviation industry; and establish clear performance metrics and national goals to be used by Congress and interested parties in measuring the FAA’s streamlining progress.
Modernizing Airport Infrastructure
This section would provide funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which issues grants to public use airports for planning and development purposes and is an essential part of maintaining long-term sustainability of airports of all sizes.
It would remove restrictions on the the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) to allow airports to more effectively finance projects that improve airport infrastructure and benefit the traveling public. The PFC application process would be streamlined to give airports more flexibility in financing projects while reducing administrative costs.
General Aviation (GA) airports service private aircraft and small charter operations. This bill would continue to provide grant funding to 250 of the smallest GA airports for an additional three years. Funding would also be restored for three years to unclassified airports without a classified status in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS).