House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) released the text of H.R. 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (AIRR Act). This legislation would transition air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a new private, non-profit Air Traffic Control (ATC) Corporation. The ATC Corporation would be run by stakeholders and funded by unspecified user fees levied on commercial carriers, although the FAA would retain its role as a safety regulator of air traffic. The 11-member ATC board would be comprised of the ATC Corporation CEO, two directors appointed by the Secretary of Transportation, four representatives from commercial airlines, two representatives from general aviation, one representative appointed by the air traffic controller labor union engaged in collective bargaining with the ATC Corporation and one appointed by the largest collective bargaining representative of airline pilots. Additionally, current FAA employees would be able to transfer to the corporation.
Other major provisions of H.R. 4441 include the authorization of the FAA for the next seven years (see table below for funding levels), setting a hard deadline for the FAA to complete a centralized database of airline pilot records, and banning the use of cellphones for in-flight communications. Additionally, the legislation requires airlines to refund baggage fees for bags delayed more than 24 hours on domestic flights and to notify families, before tickets are booked, if family members are assigned seats that are not together.
At the introduction of the bill, Shuster and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) said "our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system. Furthermore, the FAA's overly bureaucratic certification processes are handicapping American companies and causing us to fall behind our competition. The AIRR Act is transformational legislation that prepares the U.S. aviation system for the future, helps ensure a modern, safe system that benefits passengers and the economy, and keeps America competitive in a vital industry." The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is tentatively planning on holding a hearing on the bill on February 10 and a full committee markup of the legislation on February 11. While progress is being made on the FAA reauthorization process, many lawmakers are still doubtful the legislation can pass both chambers before the current authorization deadline of March 31.
This article was originally published in the Holland & Knight Public Policy and Regulation Team's Eyes on Washington Newsletter.