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FAA Extension Introduces Several Significant Reforms

On July 7, 2016, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced a bipartisan agreement on an extension of the FAA’s authorization to September 30, 2017.  Although the bill is a relatively short-term extension, it introduces a number of non-controversial reforms of particular interest to airports.  Specifically, the bill would–

  • Significantly enhance standards applicable to access controls and security vetting standards for workers with access to the sterile areas of an airport;
  • Require TSA to work with private partners to expand the TSA PreCheck program and facilitate enhanced enrollment opportunities;
  • Establish a new working group focused on methods of improving air service to small communities; and
  • Permit FAA to use 2012 enplanement data in calculating AIP apportionments for certain small airports with reduced air service.

The bill also contains several UAS-related provisions of importance for airports:

  • FAA would be required to establish a process allowing the owners or proprietors of critical infrastructure, oil refineries, chemical facilities, amusement parks, or other locations to apply to restrict the operation of UAS in “close proximity”;
  • UAS operators who knowingly or recklessly interfere with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or other emergency response efforts would be subject to a $20,000 fine;
  • Manufacturers of UAS would be required to make a “safety statement” available to owners at the time of delivery, after FAA develops appropriate guidance;
  • The bill would expand the FAA’s Section 333 exemption authority to permit it to authorize beyond visual line of sight and/or night operations for the inspection and maintenance of certain critical infrastructure; and
  • FAA would implement an airspace hazard mitigation pilot program to counter threats from errant or hostile UAS at airports and critical infrastructure facilities.

This extension bill appears to be garnering broad support among both chambers of Congress, and will likely be agreed to by vote later this week or next.  The FAA’s current authorization expires on July 15, 2016.

We will provide further details on these provision if the bill becomes law.