By Ben Husch
Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (HR 302) on Oct. 3.
The bill would reauthorize the FAA for five years, FY 2019-2023, at a cost of $97 billion and represents the longest funding authorization period for FAA programs since 1982.
- Airport and Aviation Infrastructure
The Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which provides grants to airports for airport safety, capacity, security and environmental projects is funded at $3.35 billion in mandatory funding for all five years. This continues AIP funding at the same level since 2012, when Congress last passed a FAA reauthorization.
The bill also creates a new airport infrastructure program, authorizing discretionary grants of more than $1 billion to small or medium-sized airports located outside of metropolitan areas. The cap on the State Block Grant program, which allows states to assume responsibility for administering AIP grants at airports was increased to 20 states, from 10.
Although the Passenger Facility Charge, an existing fee on passengers at commercial airports to help fund airport infrastructure projects was not increased, the bill includes provisions to increase the flexibility of funds raised and reduce delays related to project approval. The bill also would prohibit, from this point on, a state or local government’s ability to levy or collect a tax, fee or charge upon any commercial service airport that is not generally imposed by the state or local government, unless the revenue is exclusively used for airport purposes.
The bill contains a significant section on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, with several provisions significantly impacting states. Most significantly, the FAA will be required to develop, within one year, a rule allowing the “carriage of property” by small UAS for compensation or hire—more commonly known as drone package delivery.
If these drones are defined as “air carriers,” states would have limited, if any, ability to prevent drones from operating in certain areas or at specific times of day. The bill also addresses the issue of state and federal drone responsibilities by requiring the comptroller general (head of the Government Accountability Office) to study and report to Congress on the regulation of low-altitude operations of small unmanned aircraft and the appropriate roles and responsibilities of federal, state, local and tribal governments in regulating such activity.
Further, the bill codifies the existing unmanned aircraft integration pilot program (IPP) created by the Department of Transportation (DOT) last year. The pilot program intends to accelerate the safe integration of unmanned aircraft and address various policy and technical questions of stakeholders, including state and local governments, related to the integration of unmanned aircraft.
Although not specifically aimed at states, the bill redefines the rules for the operation of recreational drones by repealing section 336 of the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act, which had severely limited the FAA’s authority to regulate recreational drones. The new rules for operation would require passage of an aeronautical safety and knowledge test, registration and marking of the recreational drone, as well as operating under a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA.
The bill also requires the FAA to establish a pilot program to begin more thoroughly utilizing remote detection and identification of drones. One of the biggest changes to drone policy was the inclusion of the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 (Division H), which gives the secretary of Homeland Security and attorney general of the Department of Justice the authority to destroy or overtake a drone that has violated protected airspace or is otherwise posing a threat to the safety or security of the United States.
Although the bill lacks a definitive solution to solve this ongoing issue, the bill makes progress by establishing an advisory committee aimed at improving transparency for air ambulances and requires the committee to produce recommendations. The secretaries of the DOT and the Department of Health and Human Services are given authority to issue any needed regulations in response to advisory committee recommendations. The bill also amends existing law to include air ambulance operators in the scope of certain consumer protection laws and to enable consumers to report alleged unfair and deceptive practices by air ambulances to the DOT.
The bill includes several sections aimed at addressing the growing issue of aircraft noise. While the bill does not impose any new requirements on the FAA to reduce noise, the bill does require the FAA to undertake several new studies exploring the impact to communities of airplane noise, the economic and health impacts on individuals as well as methods for alleviating airplane noise. Such studies could be the basis for additional regulation in the future.
- Airplane Passenger Protections
Although of little direct impact to states, the bill contains several provisions affecting airline passengers.
The FAA would be required to issue a rule that would set minimum standards for airline seat size and legroom while simultaneously ordering a study of plane evacuations, including the effect seat size and legroom have on evacuations. The bill would prohibit airlines from involuntarily removing a passenger, commonly referred to as “bumping,” who has already boarded, unless there is a safety or security concern and would also prohibit the use of cell phones for voice calls during flight. It would also expand the current in-cabin smoking ban to include e-cigarettes and mandates a new rule that would set standards for service animals allowed on board.
2018 FAA Reauthorization Act
Section by Section Summary
NCSL Letter on FAA Priorities
NCSL Letter on Air Carrier Pre-emption
Ben Husch staffs the NCSL Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.