Senate Passes Major FAA Bill with Key Provisions Benefitting Alaska

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, today welcomed the overwhelming passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. The legislation contains several key provisions secured by Senator Sullivan that are important to Alaska.

One of the essential focuses of the bill is on the general aviation industry, which contributes more than $1 billion to the Alaska economy. Aviation in general supports more than 47,000 jobs – one-tenth of the jobs in the entire state.

Senator Sullivan’s provisions in the bill include air traffic control hiring provisions, increased benefits for the general aviation community, such as a provision to protect their privacy and another to reduce the paperwork for general aviation pilots by lengthening the registration period, and the inclusion of Little Diomede in the Essential Air Service program.

"With more than 100 communities in our state wholly reliant on aviation to get in or out — including regional centers like Bethel, Nome and Kotzebue — today's passage of the FAA reauthorization bill is uniquely important to Alaska,” said Senator Sullivan. “The bill will help maintain Alaska's diverse and remote pieces of aviation infrastructure which are vital to the well-being of so many Alaskans. The legislation also incorporates new robust consumer protections, making it one of the most flyer-friendly FAA reauthorizations in years.”

Specifically, HR 636 includes:

Investment in aviation infrastructure: 

  • This bill supports investment and enhanced safety with an increase in infrastructure spending by authorizing funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) at $3.75 billion, an increase of $400 million above the current annual investment.

 Maintains the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system:

  • The Senate bill maintains the current air traffic control system and does not transfer the air traffic control services to a private corporation.

Aircraft Certification Reform: 

  • Requires the FAA to establish a risk-based framework to accelerate the installation of safety equipment enhancements for small, general aviation airplanes. 
  • Streamlines the burdensome and slow certification processes by establishing an advisory committee to put forth improvements to ensure uniformity and reliability of the process. More importantly, it requires the FAA to better use its existing delegation authorities, and includes certain deadlines to meet milestones. 

Little Diomede Essential Air Service (EAS) situation: 

  • The Village of Little Diomede along with three other Lower 48 communities were not eligible for the first 12 years of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program due to the fact that they did not receive scheduled air service in 1978.
  • The need to add Diomede into the EAS program was made clear when the community recently went without any air service and crucial supplies for more than five weeks.
  • A provision included by Senator Sullivan adds Little Diomede into the Essential Air Service in order to provide regular air service to the community. 

Pilot Bill of Rights 2:

  • One of the critical general aviation provisions in the FAA reauthorization is the inclusion of the Pilot Bill of Rights 2. Building off the success of the initial Pilot’s Bill of Rights, this provision continues to make the essential reforms for pilots, such as streamlining an overly burdensome medical certification process, and increasing transparency and access to additional information for pilots subjected to investigation.

ATC Hiring: 

  • In January 2014, the FAA launched an effort to fill an expected 6,300 air traffic controller vacancies over the next five years.
  • As a part of that effort, the FAA announced that it was no longer providing any preference to applicants coming out of training facilities, such as Collegiate Training Initiatives (CTI) including one University of Alaska-Anchorage, over general public applicants with no training.
  • The FAA also eliminated hiring first from a category of highly qualified candidates and has instead opted to hire from a larger group of applicants who all meet the minimum qualification standards. Applicants from the CTIs have been particularly affected by this decision, despite its long history of success in preparing students for careers as air traffic controllers.
  • The language not only restores an interview in the hiring process but adds back some preference to CTI graduates in the hiring process.

Small Airport Regulation Relief:

  • The bill directs the FAA to apportion AIP entitlement funds to certain airports based on its 2012 enplanement numbers. This protects Manokotak and Haines airports from cuts in AIP funding.

Cold Weather Construction:

  • Language continues the FAA requirement to schedule its review of construction projects so that projects in cold-weather states are reviewed as early as possible in order to maximize construction time during construction season.

In addition, Senator Sullivan championed the following three amendments that were adopted by the Commerce Committee:

Project Streamlining Provision: Establishes performance measures and targets to provide more accountability to the permitting process for aviation infrastructure.

Plane Registration: This amendment lengthens plane registration for non-commercial planes. The current three-year registration provides an undue burden on owners, especially in rural areas. This amendment reduces the workload on the FAA and the owners while providing long-term cost savings for the FAA due to the reduced workload.

Privacy Protection in the ATC system: The FAA maintains a real-time data base of aircraft tail numbers as they transit the country, identifying their locations as they take off and land. That information is now accessible to the public through the Internet. This provision allows for private aircraft owners to request the FAA to block the registration number of the aircraft owner from any public dissemination for the noncommercial flights of the owner or operator.