Sullivan Works to Pass Major FAA Reauthorization with Key Provisions Benefitting Alaska

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a member of the Senate Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee, today joined his colleagues in the overwhelming passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018. This legislation – which now heads to the President’s desk – reauthorizes the FAA through 2023, and contains several key provisions of Alaskan importance secured by Senator Sullivan.

 FAA Reauthorization

“Simply put, aviation and aviation infrastructure are a critical component of the Alaskan economy and our way of life,” said Senator Sullivan. “For 169 communities in Alaska who are reliant on aviation to travel in and out of their communities and for their goods and services — including regional centers like Bethel, Nome and Kotzebue — today's passage of the FAA reauthorization bill is critically important. From our general aviation community to the cargo industry, this long-term reauthorization will help modernize our airport infrastructure, improve service for the flying public, enhance security, while also boosting innovation. I thank my colleagues for coming together to make this five-year authorization -- the longest enacted since 1982.”

“This legislation not only provides long term funding certainty, but provides a needed focus on the issues of concern to carriers in Alaska,” said Jane Dale, Executive Director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association. “Senator Sullivan’s attention to the concerns coming from Alaskans in his work on the Commerce Committee will provide regulatory relief and certainty for our air carriers, and a path towards infrastructure investment that has been lacking in Alaska.” 

Some of the major provisions championed by Senator Sullivan in the FAA Reauthorization include: 

Investment in Aviation Infrastructure:

  • The bill supports investment and enhanced safety by authorizing five years of stable funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) at $3.35 billion for FY 2019-2023. 

Maintaining the Air Traffic Control System:

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

Essential Air Service:

  • The bill authorizes an escalating per year amount for the Essential Air Service Program, an increase of $5 million for FY18 to $155 million, up to $172 million in FY2023.  For the FY23 allocation, this will be an increase of $23 million beyond the existing appropriation amount, in order to support small community air service. 

Little Diomede EAS:

  • The bill includes a provision authored by Senator Sullivan adding Little Diomede into the Essential Air Service in order to provide regular air service to the community.  The Village of Little Diomede 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 went without any air service and crucial supplies for more than five weeks in 2015. 

Transferring Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) to FAA:

  • The bill includes an amendment from Senator Sullivan to allow an airport or the state to transfer Automated Weather Observing Systems and related communications systems that are built with AIP funds to the FAA for ownership and operations and maintenance.  Weather reporting and forecasts, and air-to-ground communications are needed to support the expanding aviation industry and its needs for better and safer access.

Improved Safety in Rural Areas:

  • The bill includes a provision championed by Senator Sullivan to improve the usefulness of Instrument Flight Rules approaches in some destinations in Alaska.  The language permits on-demand or commuter operations (Part 135) to fly to destinations using Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) for destinations that have a published IFR approach but lack a Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR weather report) if a current Area Forecast, supplemented by non-certified local weather observations (such as weather cameras and human observations) is available, and an alternate airport that has a weather report is specified.

Terminal Aerodrome Forecast:

  • The bill includes language authored by Senator Sullivan to ensure that requirements for weather forecasting and weather reporting are appropriate for the unique operating environment in Alaska.  The language allows carriers that provide regularly scheduled air service to continue operations as historically practiced, allowing the use of an area forecast, supplemented by other local weather data and an alternate airport filed with complete weather data.

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 the Alaskan communities of Manotak, Haines, Cold Bay, Hoonah, Emmonak and Gustavus airports from cuts in AIP funding.

Priority Review of Construction Projects in Cold Weather States:

  • The bill includes a priority of Senator Sullivan’s to ensure the FAA schedules 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 the construction season.

Remote Airport Access Roads:

  • The bill contains a provision authored by Senator Sullivan to provide a higher degree of local use for airport access roads located off the contiguous road system in Alaska. Currently, the rigidity of Airport Improvement Program funds prohibits property owners from using airport roads to access their adjacent lands, including adjacent Alaska Native land allotments.  The language provides incidental access to public or private property for airport access roads in Alaska for property that is adjacent to the road and is not otherwise connected to a public road. 

Noncommercial General Aviation Registration:

  • A top priority of the general aviation community, the bill would increase the duration of registration for noncommercial general aviation aircraft to seven years from three.

Lithium Batteries:

  • The bill contains language authored by Senator Sullivan to ensure rural residents are able to access replacement batteries for medical devices via safe transport by aircraft.

Infrastructure Regulatory Reform:

  • The bill includes an amendment, championed by Senator Sullivan, limiting the regulation of non-federally sponsored property. Airport owners are currently required to receive FAA approval to make any improvements or changes to any airport facilities, including those that are not related to airfield or aeronautical areas.
  • This amendment limits the FAA’s role to establishing standards, such as height limits or shielding radio signals, ensuring aircraft operations or avionics are not interfered with. As long as the airport owner or operator meets those standards, they could develop non-airfield parcels as they see fit. The amendment was supported by the Airports Council International – North America.

Aircraft Certification Reform:

  • The bill streamlines FAA’s 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.

Federal Contract Tower Program:

  • The bill contains language supporting and protecting the Federal Contract Tower Program, such as the towers located in Bethel, King Salmon, and Kodiak.

Contract Weather Observer Program:

  • The bill contains language directing the FAA not to discontinue the Contract Weather Observer program at any airport.  In communities that experience severe weather, having a dedicated on-site meteorological professional to record and interpret weather data is valuable to pilots and air carriers.

FAA Drone Testing:

  • The bill will authorize the FAA’s drone test ranges through fiscal 2023, which includes the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). 
  • The bill will also codify a drone integration pilot program recently established by the DOT.  This past May, DOT named the UAF as one of 10 sites nationwide selected for the highly competitive FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program.  The newly created program serves an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities to accelerate the safe UAS integration in American airspace. 

ADS-B Evaluation:

  • The bill contains language secured by Senator Sullivan to require the FAA to evaluate providing additional ADS-B Ground Based Transmitters to provide a minimum operational network in Alaska along major flight routes.  Ground Based ADS-B Transmitters providing surveillance, weather, and traffic information are critical to the NextGen infrastructure and bringing safety and efficiency benefits in rural areas of Alaska that are heavily trafficked by low-altitude general and commercial aviation.