FAA Reauthorization and Advancing ALPA’s Pilot-Partisan Agenda

By ALPA Staff

It should come as no surprise that Congress seems to function only when faced with a looming deadline. When a legislative deadline can’t be met, the result is usually a short-term extension to buy a little more time to work out remaining details. This is the case with the reauthorization of the FAA. The current authorization is now in its fifth extension, and the previous authorization had 23 extensions before a long-term bill was signed into law.

As this issue went to press, the U.S. House of Representatives had just concluded consideration of its FAA reauthorization bill, H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which passed by a vote of 393 to 13. After three years and spanning two Congresses, ALPA was largely pleased with the outcome of the House product.

However, despite ALPA’s intense lobbying and the quick response of 22 percent of ALPA’s members who opposed a provision that the Science, Space, and Technology Committee added to H.R. 4 for research and development of single-pilot commercial cargo operations with automation and remote piloting, the provision was included.

When the 114th Congress came to a close in December 2016, the Senate had passed a full FAA reauthorization bill. The House, on the other hand, was unable to get floor time for its version of the bill due to the controversial air traffic control (ATC) provision, which would have removed ATC operations from the authority of the FAA and replaced it with a quasi-
governmental entity. As 2017 began, the powerbrokers in Washington, D.C., were preparing for a new administration, and both the House and Senate were gearing up for numerous legislative opportunities and battles that were anticipated in the new Congress.

Helping shape House and Senate bills

As the dust settled after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, ALPA’s Government Affairs Department had already been meeting with the majority and minority staff of the transportation authorizing committees in both chambers to outline the Association’s legislative goals for the 115th Congress—specifically the FAA reauthorization bills. ALPA’s agenda was well received, and the Association played an active role in helping to shape the base text for both the House and Senate bills.

Both bills included safety enhancements that would benefit ALPA members and the traveling public. On the House side, the Association had the support of Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair, in opposing any changes to current law with respect to first officer training and qualifications. On the Senate side, an amendment passed in committee that could weaken pilot training by creating alternate, less-rigorous pathways for first officer qualification.

The positives in the Senate bill were overshadowed by the inclusion of the amendment on first officer training. This amendment would have removed the academic requirements that the FAA determined were necessary to justify a reduction in the number of training hours for first officers. According to the FAA, “The reduction for graduates who receive bachelors or associate degrees with aviation majors was not based solely on the completion of ground and flight training for certification at a Part 141 pilot school. Rather, the reduction was based on the content and substance of a broader academic curriculum completed concurrently with ground and flight training for certification.”

Many senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee represent western and midwestern states with limited and often unreliable air service in rural areas. Unfortunately, local airport officials and regional air carriers are incorrectly attributing unreliable air service to a lack of pilots. Through ALPA’s education and outreach on Capitol Hill, the Association is correcting this misconception and is also proactively working with individual congressional offices to assist them with their rural air service issues.

In the House, ALPA successfully advocated for two significant amendments that were added to the bill during consideration by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The first amendment required secondary cockpit barriers on all new passenger airliners. The second amendment added the language from H.R. 2150, the Flags of Convenience Don’t Fly Here Act. H.R. 2150 will help address the loophole created when the Department of Transportation approved Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) request for a foreign air carrier permit. While the legislation would not affect NAI’s permit, it would prevent others from following the airline’s example. Both of these amendments garnered enough bipartisan support that they passed unanimously by voice vote.

Changing legislative landscape

One of the most recent and significant changes to the legislative landscape this year was the decision of the House Transportation and Infrastructure chair to withdraw his proposal for moving ATC operations outside of the FAA to a not-for-profit, corporatized entity. This proposal had been met with considerable opposition from a majority of House Democrats, a large enough contingent of House Republicans, and the president to make passage of the bill unlikely with the ATC proposal included.

In the Senate, an equally important dynamic blocked action on its bill: resolute opposition to advancing the Senate bill with the first officer training amendment included. If the Senate bill is to move, the first officer training amendment will need to be dropped, which has been mentioned as a realistic means to advance the bill.

ALPA priorities

As a result of these developments, Congress is on its way toward a full FAA reauthorization measure that could be sent to the president. On April 27, the House passed H.R. 4, which contains many ALPA priorities, including secondary cockpit barriers on new passenger airliners, H.R. 2150 to stop flags of convenience, automatic acceptance of voluntarily reported safety information, authorization of the Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) program, lithium battery harmonization, UAS regulation, and authorizations for the Essential Air Service program and Pacific island reliever airports, among other things. A provision was adopted unanimously by amendment to harmonize oxygen mask regulations with international standards to require their use above 41,000 feet.Amendments to H.R. 4

Notably, the bill didn’t include any changes to pilot training and qualifications despite repeated calls for rollbacks to those safety regulations. The bill also didn’t include any changes to labor law, though an eleventh-hour attempt was made by the airlines’ trade association to preempt state laws related to pay and scheduling. ALPA was able to garner enough opposition to the proposal, which would have eliminated flight crew ability to utilize state laws related to kin care, family and medical leave, etc. As a result, the amendment was withdrawn. H.R. 4 also didn’t include any changes to pilot mental-health screening, cameras in the cockpit, or foreign ownership or cabotage rules.

As noted, the provision added to H.R. 4 through an amendment offered by Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Jack Bergman (R-MI), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) shortsightedly allows for the research and development of single-pilot commercial cargo operations with automation and remote piloting. This amendment wasn’t made in order by the Rules Committee, and a vote to strike this provision of the bill (Section 744) wasn’t allowed.

A separate amendment was offered by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Rob Woodall (R-GA) to allow third-party entities to obtain pilot driver’s license records to facilitate employment background checks. ALPA objected to potential breaches of privacy, and the amendment was modified before it passed by voice vote.

An amendment by Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) was intended to open Puerto Rico to cabotage in order to develop a cargo hub in San Juan. After opposition and consultation from ALPA, the Gonzalez-Colon amendment that was voted on was a noncontroversial study of transportation opportunities in Puerto Rico.

Senate action on a bill is expected later this spring/summer. Passing major legislation in an election year is always a difficult task, but a looming deadline often helps motivate Congress to act. ALPA is committed to working with the House and Senate to achieve the Association’s priorities for FAA reauthorization and in doing so promote a safe and secure pilot-partisan agenda.

ALPA Wins in H.R. 4

  • H.R. 2150, the Flags of Convenience Don’t Fly Here Act
  • Secondary cockpit barrier requirement on all new airliners
  • Automatic acceptance of voluntarily reported safety reports (ASAP)
  • Harmonization of lithium battery regulations with International Civil Aviation Organization standards
  • Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) authorization
  • Continued funding for emergency airfields in the Pacific
  • Funding for Essential Air Service
  • New grant program for small community air service
  • Harmonization of oxygen mask regulations with international standards
  • More regulation of recreational drone operators

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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