House Passes Critical Aviation Safety, FAA Funding Legislation
Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation that will advance aviation safety, improve airline travel for passengers, and facilitate the use of drones to assist with wildfire fighting efforts and prevention. As the top Democrat on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) was the lead Democratic negotiator in the House of Representatives on the bill, which reauthorizes and provides funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through September 2017.
“This legislation includes victories for Oregon and Western communities that battle wildfires every summer. It includes my provision directing the FAA to expedite permissions for federal agencies to use drones as tools to better fight these catastrophic fires and better protect the thousands of firefighters who put themselves in harm’s way to fight them. It also includes my provisions to prevent unauthorized drone operators from interfering with or endangering firefighters battling western wildfires. Someone who jeopardizes the safety of firefighters in the air, on the ground, and in the communities under threat of wildfire should get more than a minor slap on the wrist.
“The legislation includes critical safety provisions that will better protect passengers and crew in the skies with enhanced mental health screening requirements for pilots and new policies to prevent potential hacking of airplane computer systems. The legislation will also protect consumers. This bill will require a prompt refund of baggage fees whenever airlines lose or fail to deliver checked baggage within a specific timeframe, and it will help families traveling with children sit together on the plane. In addition, the bill will help FAA address air traffic controller shortages by making it easier to hire experienced controllers.
“While I would have rather moved a comprehensive long-term FAA reauthorization, this legislation reflects a bipartisan compromise that provides over a year of certainty and includes a number of time-sensitive safety and security provisions that will better protect our nation’s airspace and air travelers.” said DeFazio.
To see Ranking Member DeFazio’s floor speech on the FAA reauthorization, click here.
Key Oregon Victories
- Preventing Unauthorized Drone Operators from Interfering with Wildfire Firefighting Efforts- DeFazio secured a provision that increases the maximum civil penalty to $20,000 for drone operations that interfere with emergency response activities or wildfire suppression efforts. The current maximum civil penalty for an individual is $1,100. According to the U.S. Forest Service, since the beginning of 2016 there have been nearly a dozen drones spotted over wildfires and near fire suppressant aircraft. The sightings and near-misses have forced the Forest Service to stop and ground wildfire air support, delaying firefighting efforts in the air and endangering efforts on the ground.
- Authorizes Drone Support of Firefighting Operations- DeFazio secured a provision that will help communities dealing with catastrophic wildfires by streamlining federal interagency cooperation in deploying drones to help support wildfire firefighting operations.
- Supports Drone Innovation and Oregon Drone Test Sites- The legislation reauthorizes the FAA’s pilot program for the FAA designated UAS test sites. This includes Oregon test ranges in Tillamook, Pendleton, and the Warm Springs Reservation. These test sites help support innovation and growth in the multi-billion dollar industry and they provide commercial drone operators with essential infrastructure to test drone integration in the national airspace.
Key Safety Victories
- Enhanced Mental Health Screening for Airline Pilots- In response to the 2015 Germanwings crash, the legislation requires the FAA to consider the recommendations of the Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee in determining whether to implement additional screening for mental health conditions as part of a comprehensive medical certification process for pilots.
- Laser Pointer Incidents- Requires the FAA, in coordination with other Federal law enforcement agencies, to provide quarterly updates to Congress regarding the number of incidents involving a laser beam pointer being aimed at, or in the flight path of, an aircraft. This provision also raises the maximum civil penalty to $25,000.
- Aviation Cybersecurity- The legislation requires the FAA to develop a comprehensive and strategic framework of principles and policies to reduce aviation cybersecurity risks and prevent the potential hacking of airplane computer systems. This provision addresses major concerns raised in a 2015 government watchdog report requested by DeFazio.
- Controller Staffing- In an effort to ease controller staffing shortages, the legislation requires the FAA to overhaul its air traffic controller hiring practice to among other things: (1) provide preferential consideration to controllers who have at least 52 weeks of prior controller experience; (2) eliminate the biographical assessment for collegiate/military applicants; and (3) raise the maximum entry age from 31 to 35 for experience controller applicants.
- Refunds for Delayed Baggage- The legislation requires an airline to promptly provide a refund passenger baggage fees if the bags are lost or delayed for an extended period after the passenger’s arrival.
- Protecting Families Flying Together- The legislation will require the Secretary of Transportation to consider establishing policy directing air carriers to better accommodate families flying together by assigning adjacent seats for passengers traveling with children younger than 13.