FAA Reauthorization is Over…Now What?

By Rebecca Mulholland, NATA Director of Legislative Affairs

After many years of fighting attempts to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system, President Trump signed into law the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law No. 115-254) on October 5, 2018. The newly enacted law reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation taxes for five years and provides important policy guidance from Congress on numerous issues including those related to aviation businesses – click here for more information about the Act’s journey to enactment. NATA and its member companies secured many provisions important to aeronautical service providers, from aircraft certification reform and regulatory consistency to a review of the illegal charter hotline as well as financial support for aviation workforce development programs.

Now that Congress and President Trump have signed off on this massive deal, what is next? The focus now turns to the regulatory arm of the government to implement the many policy directive task forces, rulemaking committees, reports and analyses called for in the law, and work with industry stakeholders to complete the tasks by the congressionally mandated deadlines. In a press statement released following President Trump’s enactment of the Act, NATA President Gary Dempsey stated that the association looks forward to working with the federal agencies tasked with implementing key provisions and acknowledged that “it’s now time to get to work on executing these important initiatives that contribute to the safety and modernization of our nation’s air transportation system.” NATA worked hard to ensure many of its policy priorities were represented in the final legislation:

Section 515. Permissible Sharing of Flight Expenses: Requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue advisory guidance on how pilots can share flight expenses with other passengers within the parameters of existing federal law. NATA supports the inclusion of this provision and agrees that pilots engaging in permissible sharing of expenses (in accordance with current rules at 14 CFR 61.113) may communicate with their passengers as they see fit, to include using internet-based communications, it is important to distinguish between private aircraft flights where expenses are shared by individuals with a common purpose and commercial flights where members of the public are transported by aircraft for remuneration. Initially proposed as an amendment to allow all flight sharing regardless of existing safety and security regulations, the association worked with its author and Congress to require the FAA to issue clearer guidance on permissible flight sharing and a related GAO study to provide private pilots with a greater understanding of such permissible flight sharing activities. For more information on NATA’s efforts to combat proponents of flight sharing language, click here.

Section 540. Rooting Out Illegal Charter Operators: Requires the Secretary to submit an analysis of reports filed during the preceding 10-year period through the FAA’s illegal charter hotline that includes follow-up action the Secretary or the Administrator can take when a report is received, how the DOT or the FAA decide to allocate resources, challenges the DOT and the FAA face in identifying illegal operators, and recommendations for improving efforts to combat illegal charter operations. NATA recommended the inclusion of Section 540 (thanks to the efforts of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto – D-NV) which directs the FAA to report on its efforts to combat illegal charter, helping the industry to understand the scope of the issue and what future steps might be needed to take to protect passengers and legitimate businesses. The language requires the FAA Administrator to submit an analysis of reports filed during the preceding ten-year period through the FAA’s illegal charter hotline, that includes follow-up action the FAA takes when a report is received, how the FAA decides to allocate resources, challenges the FAA faces in identifying illegal operators, and recommendations for improving efforts to combat illegal charter operations. NATA looks forward to working with the FAA, through the association’s Illegal Charter Task Force, to stamp out illegal operations.

Section 308. FAA and NTSB Review of General Aviation Safety: Currently neither the FAA nor the NTSB segments Part 135 incident data, making it difficult to accurately measure safety data and trends. Part 135 operations include a wide range of aircraft types and operations. The aircraft range from helicopters, to small single-engine piston airplanes to large globally capable passenger jets. Uses include transporting cargo, passengers, air tours, medical transfers, off-shore oil rig trips and others. Because the data is so non-homogeneous it is impossible to derive clear trends or identify areas for safety emphasis and direct resources to the safety enhancements that will result in the most improvement.  NATA supports the FAA/NTSB collaboration and encourages them to work with Part 135 industry stakeholders to determine what additional data points are appropriate to collect and report back to Congress on additional data that will be collected, the time-frame for implementation and any potential obstacles to implementation.

Section 625. Aviation Workforce Development Programs: The association also worked with other industry stakeholders to support provisions that will focus on providing opportunities for the next generation of aviation business professionals. This section requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish a program to provide grants for eligible projects to support the education of future aircraft pilots and the development of the aircraft pilot workforce; and a program to provide grants for eligible projects to support the education and recruitment of aviation maintenance technical workers and the development of the aviation maintenance workforce. NATA has continuously voiced its support of this important provision and looks forward to being part of the conversation on how to implement this program in schools across the country.

Section 315. Aviation Rulemaking Committee for Part 135 Pilot Rest and Duty Rules: While there were many victories for aviation businesses in the bill, there were also provisions that included regulatory implementation deadlines that were not possible. NATA was successful in altering language originally in the 2016 FAA bill related to Part 135 rest and duty rules. Initial language proposed last year would have mandated a rulemaking committee to recommend new Part 135 rest/duty rules on a very short timetable and require FAA to implement them. This section establishes a rulemaking committee comprised of industry representatives, labor organizations, and safety experts to review and provide recommendations on pilot rest and duty rules for operations in Part 135. This section, including NATA’s input, convenes a rulemaking committee and provides more time for the committee to conduct its work, guarantees charter operator representation, and requires consideration of small business issues and need to accommodate diversity of Part 135 operations.

As the regulatory agencies sift through the numerous tasks they are assigned with, including those listed above, NATA looks forward to being part of the conversation. Of the 119 new reports tasked by Congress to the Federal Aviation Administration (58), Department of Transportation (23 plus one joint with FAA), Government Accountability Office (24) and others, 26 of them directly impact general aviation businesses. NATA is already in touch with the federal agencies tasked with completing these reports, and will look to you, our members – the experts, to help us ensure the agencies have the information needed to accurately understand the industry and that we are well represented. There is still much to be done, and with your guidance, we can continue to work in an industry that runs for the benefit of all users.

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