FAA Funding Flying to President’s Desk

The U.S. Senate yesterday approved a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by a vote of 93-6, sending the $43.35 billion, five-year bill to the president’s desk.

Funding for the Airport Improvement Program, which allows airports to build up runways, taxiways, aprons and roads, remained at $3.35 billion each year through 2023. However, an additional and $1 billion each year was created for airports in rural areas to apply for grants to improve their facilities. The measure will also expand eligible uses of federal grants at airports and provide additional funds for disaster relief and modify federal disaster programs.

“This is a strong step toward securing stable funding for our infrastructure at a time when our country is no longer first in any mode of transportation,” said Michael W. Johnson, NSSGA president and CEO. “The number of airline passengers continues to increase, and yet, the last airport built in our country was Denver International in 1995. We need more bipartisan funding bills like this to improve our infrastructure.”

The legislation, however, does not increase the Passenger Facility Charge that airports can levy for airport improvement projects or lift the $4.50 cap on the fee.

The FAA bill will further regulate the use of drones by establishing a process to identify safety standards for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and allow their operation without further certification. Before 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation is required to decide whether certain drones can fly over people, beyond their operator’s line of sight or at night without a waiver or certificate – which is currently required for those activities.

The bill also continues an exception to the rules under Part 336 for operators of recreational or model drones weighing less than 55 pounds who comply with certain rules. Under the legislation, the operator will have to take a knowledge and safety test, which could be administered by a community-based organization. Drones that weigh more than 55 pounds could operate under the rules governing model drones if they fly from a fixed site and comply with community-based organization guidelines.