House Gives Overwhelming, Bipartisan Support to FAA Bill

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a five-year, $108 billion aviation reauthorization bill by a resoundingly bipartisan vote of 351 to 69. In a House as paralytically polarized as this one, that kind of vote, with 86 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats supporting the bill, stood out.

Yea Nay
GOP 187 31
Dem 164 38
TOTAL 351 69

The vote tally sheet shows that the 31 “no” Republicans votes were conservatives who almost never vote for any domestic spending, and several conservative amendments failed narrowly because Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) and other senior T&I Republicans opposed them, so there may have been some bitterness there. The 38 Democratic “no” votes were a blend of ultra-progressives (the so-called “Squad”) and Ways and Means Democrats who were still incensed at how their chairman handled the tax title of the bill.

“America has always been the gold standard in aviation, and this bill ensures that we remain the world leader,” said Graves.  “This bipartisan legislation improves the safety of our system, our airport infrastructure, and the quality of service for passengers.  Not only that, this bill will make the FAA more efficient, encourage the safe adoption of new and innovative technologies, and address growing workforce shortages, from pilots and mechanics to air traffic controllers. In addition, this bill provides the first title dedicated specifically to our critical general aviation sector – the backbone of the American aviation system. I appreciate the work of all my colleagues who helped develop and move this bill through the House today, and I look forward to finishing work on this bill with the Senate before the current FAA law expires in September.”

(As for that “working with the Senate” by September part – the only way that is possible is if the Senate reschedules its committee markup for sometime next week, which may happen, but no one in power is saying. If not, the Senate is supposed to be in recess from July 31 to September 4, making a conferenced bill by September 30 all but impossible.)

T&I ranking Democrat Rick Larsen added, “Today, the House voted to bolster America’s global aviation leadership. This good faith process yielded a bipartisan bill that will create a safer, cleaner, greener, and more accessible U.S. aviation system. It will maintain our gold standard in safety and innovation, make a more sustainable and resilient aviation sector a reality, and improve accessibility and consumer protections for all passengers. This is also a jobs bill. It helps to build the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, and diversifies our workforce, recognizing how critical that effort is to our nation’s long-term economic success. I appreciate the partnership and collaboration of Chair Sam Graves, Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen, and Subcommittee Chair Garret Graves on delivering this bipartisan bill to secure the future of America’s aviation system.”

During debate, on July 19the House rejected an amendment by Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) that would have added seven new daily round-trip flights to/from Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA), inside or outside of the 1,250-mile “perimeter.” That amendment was defeated by a bipartisan vote of 205 yeas, 229 nays. The tally sheet is interesting. The vote wasn’t really that partisan:

Yea Nay Total
GOP 167 55 222
Dem 38 174 212
Total 205 229

A closer look at the tally sheet shows regional coalitions. The 38 Democratic “yes” votes tended to be from outside the 1,250-mile perimeter, or else from Georgia, where Delta Air Lines strongly supported the amendment because they want more access to their Salt Lake City hub. Republican “no” votes were mostly from inside the perimeter, possibly fearing that some of their own nonstop service to DCA might be replaced with more profitable service outside the perimeter if the option were available.

(For background on the perimeter rule, see this explainer.)

The issue of DCA access will probably come up again when the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee resumes its abruptly-halted consideration of its own FAA reauthorization bill, which may happen next week. (Being recessed “subject to the call of the chair” means anytime that the chairman decides between now and noon on January 3, 2025, with no formal advance notice requirement.) The Virginia and Maryland Senate delegations have promised scorched-earth filibuster tactics if the Commerce Committee moves legislation that increases the daily number of flights at DCA (they cite the current level of flight delays and overcrowding).

Out of 378 amendments to the bill filed with the Rules Committee, the panel made in order 104 of them, each debatable for up to 10 minutes, and all listed (with links to amendment text) here.

While 104 amendments may seem like a lot, the House has proved that it can process amendments at a rapid pace, especially when the underlying bill is bipartisan and both floor managers want to see it through. Last week, the House considered the annual National Defense Authorization Act, and for that one, members had submitted an astounding 1,558 amendments to Rules, which made 370 amendments in order on the House floor. The House managed to consider all 370 amendments in under 12 hours of debate, split over 3 days.

The secret is the power given by Rules to the majority floor manager of both bills to pick amendments out of the list and group them together into en bloc packages that get 30 minutes of debate and one up-or-down vote. In the case of the defense bill, at the very beginning of amendment debate, the chairmen offered five en bloc packages in a row, of 56 amendments, 57 amendments, 61 amendments, 62 amendments, and 55 amendments. The first four passed by voice with minimal debate, and fifth passed by a roll call vote, taking care of 291 of the 37  amendments in under an hour.

On the 19th, Sam Graves called up H.R. 3935 at 12:38 p.m., just after the President of Israel’s address to a joint session. After one hour of general debate on the bill, Graves offered his bipartisan manager’s amendment, developed with ranking member Larsen and the Aviation Subcommittee leaders, making technical fixes to the bill and incorporating all of the “we promise to work with you” promises that got members to withdraw amendments offered during the T&I Committee markup of the bill. (At least all of the “we promise to work with you” deals where an agreement could be reached.) That amendment was quickly agreed to by voice vote.

Then Graves started using his en bloc authority, offering packages of 18, 20, and 17 amendments in three quick packages. All three passed by voice, and in just 22 minutes of debate, the House had disposed of over half of the 104 amendments made in order (56 of them).

Then, just after 2 p.m., members whose amendments were not in the first three en blocs started the tedious process of waiting for their amendment to be called up, in the (mostly alphabetical) order listed in the Rules Committee report. The first of those, Langworthy (R-NY) #10, was one of the few that was done out of alphabetical order because it was, along with the DCA slots, perhaps the highest-profile amendment made in order.

Langworthy’s amendment was simple: strike section 546 of the bill. Section 546 was a provision negotiated by Graves and others to help address the pilot shortage by allowing 10 percent of the 1,500 flight hours required for a commercial airline pilot license in an advanced flight simulator. Graves (a pilot with a commercial license himself) said that time in a simulator emulating a twin-engine jet in turbulent weather at night, or simulating engine stalls or other equipment failures, was a more valuable learning experience than flying in a single-engine prop plane like a Cessna in clear daylight weather, yet under the current rules, the clear daylight Cessna flying counts towards your 1,500 hours and the advanced simulator training for hazardous situations does not.

But Langworthy represents Buffalo, New York, site of the last commercial airline disaster in the U.S, the 2009 Colgan flight, and the families of the Colgan victims have been an unusually cohesive and persistent lobbying force in support of the 1,500-hour rule that was implemented after that crash. (Even though, as Graves pointed out, both pilots on that Colgan flight had over 1,500 hours of flight time.) Other members from Western New York also spoke, and between that, and the (possibly coincidental, possibly connected) fact that we haven’t had a fatal airline crash since the 1,500-hour rule went into effect, meant that the House adopted Langworthy’s amendment, 243 yeas to 191 nays.

Yea Nay Total
GOP 49 173 222
Dem 194 18 212
Total 243 191

The tally sheet for the vote shows that Larsen and Aviation Subcommittee ranking minority member Steve Cohen (D-TN) sided with Graves but were only able to hold 16 other Democrats with them, while Langworthy managed to pull 48 Republicans from across the nation to go along with the 173 Democrats who supported the existing 1,500 hour rule.

After that, the amendments got less significant, and the once the bulk of members came back from the annual White House picnic at 9 p.m., the House held 20 consecutive roll call votes on FAA amendments (listed below). One more en bloc package and two more amendments were debated and received votes in the brief session the following morning before passage of the amended bill became the “jet fumes” last vote of the week, sending most House members straight from the chamber to the airport.

Here are the amendments disposed during consideration of the bill. Remember that all amendments are drafted to the text of Rules Committee Print 118-11, the multi-committee version of the bill. The text of every amendment may be found in this document. By early next week, the text of the amended bill should be available here.

Amendments Agreed To:

  • Graves (MO)/Larsen (WA) #1 – Makes technical, conforming, and clarifying changes throughout the bill. Further, it incorporates new provisions and revisions based on amendments offered and withdrawn at the Transportation Committee’s markup – adopted by voice vote.
  • En Bloc #1 (Bean #2, Brown #5, Cammack #8, Carbajal #9, Case #11, Case #12, Castro #13, Ciscomani #14, Ciscomani #15, Cloud #16, Davids #17, DelBene #18, Deluzio #19, DeSaulnier #20, Donalds #21, Donalds #22, Eshoo #24, Espaillat #25) – adopted by voice vote.
  • En Bloc #2 (Feenstra #26, Fitzpatrick #28, Garcia, Robert #30, Gonzalez-Colon #31, Gooden #32, Gottheimer #34, Hageman #37, Hageman #38, Hageman #39, Higgins (LA) #40, Hill #41, Houlahan #42, Hoyle #43, Huizenga #45, Johnson (SD) #49, Kean #51, Kilmer #52, Lee (NV) #55, Lynch #57, Lynch #58) – adopted by voice vote.
  • En Bloc #3 (Lawler #54, Lucas #56, Magaziner #59, Meng #63, Neguse #66, Peltola #72, Pettersen #78, Pettersen #79, Pettersen #80, Pettersen #81, Pfluger #82, Porter #83, Pressley #84, Rose #86, Van Drew #95, Westerman #96, Westerman #97) – adopted by voice vote.
  • Langworthy #10 – Strikes Sec. 546 to maintain current training requirements for a person who is applying for an airline transport certificate with an airplane category and class rating – adopted, 243 yeas to 191 nays.
  • Donalds #23 – Directs the FAA Secretary to consult with Part 141 flight schools and industry stakeholders to establish an apprenticeship program to bolster the qualified pilot pipeline – adopted by voice vote.
  • Fitzpatrick #29 – Requires the FAA to implement recommendations from a rulemaking committee on retrofitting commercial aircraft with secondary barriers to protect pilots from potential threats in flight – adopted, 392 yeas, 41 nays.
  • Huizenga #44 – Requires the Secretary of Transportation to prioritize limited civilian grant funding under the Advanced Air Mobility Infrastructure Pilot Program for entities that collaborate with the DOD or National Guard and are already eligible for existing DOD funds – adopted, 220 yeas, 215 nays.
  • Kean #50 – Requires the Secretary of Transportation to limit the types of events that are directly attributable to airline-reported delays – adopted, 240 yeas, 195 nays.
  • LaMalfa #53 – Requires the FAA to promulgate a rule which will allow for restricted category aircraft performing a wildfire suppression operation to transport firefighters to and from the site of a wildfire if those firefighters are performing ground wildfire suppression – adopted by voice vote.
  • Obernolte #67 – Requires the FAA to implement an accountability system that ensures students can schedule an airman practical test in no more than fourteen (14) calendar days after the test is requested – adopted by voice vote.
  • Obernolte #68 – narrows the types of unleaded fuels that airports are required to provide under the bill – adopted, 229 yeas, 205 nays.
  • En bloc #4 (Manning #60, Manning #61, Quigley #85, Rouzer #87, Rouzer #88, Ruiz #89, David Scott #90, Self #91, Sherrill #92, Steil #93, Thompson (PA) #94, Williams #99, Yakym #100, Smith (NJ) #101, Boebert #102, Boebert #103, Beyer #104) – adopted, 348 yeas, 57 nays.

Amendments Not Agreed To:

  • Feenstra #27 – Exempts non-hub airports from the requirement to have at least one individual who maintains basic emergency medical technician (EMT) certification during air carrier operations – rejected, 203 yeas, 231 nays.
  • Gosar #33 – Requires the FAA to factor in the economics of commercial air tours over National Parks when creating National Park air tour management plans – rejected, 196 yeas, 236 nays.
  • Miller (IL)/Greene #35 – Requires the Inspector General to investigate whether the FAA’s decision to increase the acceptable EKG range for pilots was based on scientific data or ulterior motives   – rejected, 177 yeas, 258 nays.
  • Miller (IL)/Greene #36 – Requires the FAA to force airlines to re-hire pilots who were fired or forced to resign because of vaccine mandates – rejected, 141 yeas, 294 nays.
  • Issa #47 – Requires the FAA Administrator to make an individual assessment of aviation safety bulletins (called Notices to Air Missions, or NOTAMs) issued by agencies outside the FAA – rejected, 214 yeas, 219  nays.
  • Jackson (TX) #48 – Requires the FAA to restrict drone flights over concentrated animal feeding operations and eligible meat and food processing facilities in a potential attempt to shield the activities of such facilities from external observation – rejected, 211 yeas, 224 nays.
  • McClintock #62 – Strikes authorization for the Essential Air Service – rejected, 49 yeas, 386 nays.
  • Miller (IL) #64 – Requires the FAA to turn over the Secretary of Transportation’s flight records for the last three years – rejected, 216 yeas, 219 nays.
  • Miller (IL) #65 – Restricts funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion officials or training – rejected, 181 yeas, 254 nays.
  • Ogles #69 – Limits the scope of the FAA’s “BEYOND” Drone Program, which is focused on enabling advanced drone operations, to exclude social benefits and impacts and only consider economic factors – rejected, 191 yeas, 244 nays.
  • Ogles #70 – Clarifies that a study of turbulence should include a focus on weather conditions rather than climate change since weather is the proximate cause – rejected, 206 yeas, 227 nays.
  • Owens #71 – This amendment adds 7 new roundtrip in-and-beyond perimeter slots to DCA split between the 7 airlines servicing the airport – rejected, 205 yeas, 229 nays.
  • Perry #73 – Strikes a section requiring the FAA to consider new entrant technology like electric and hydrogen propulsion aircraft from its Continuous Lower Energy Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program – rejected, 127 yeas, 308 nays.
  • Perry #74 – Reduces Airport Improvement Program funding, the FAA’s operations and maintenance budget, and the FAA’s research and development budget – rejected, 52 yeas, 381 nays.
  • Perry #75 – Strikes vertiport from the AIP definitions section – rejected, 45 yeas, 387 nays.
  • Perry #76 – Strikes secs. 206 and 207, tail number info restrictions – rejected, 64 yeas, 329 nays.
  • Perry #77 – Strikes telework provisions and replace with SHOW UP Act – rejected, 195 nays, 226 nays.

Amendments Not Offered:

  • Brecheen #3 – Tasks the National Academy of Sciences with only studying the cybersecurity workforce and coming up with recommendations to increase its size and quality, not increase the force’s diversity – not offered.
  • Brecheen #4 – Prohibits funding for the Airport Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program and the Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program – not offered.
  • Buchanan #6 – Requires the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study into raising the retirement age of air traffic controllers – not offered.
  • Burgess #7 – Allows the use of electronic shipping papers for air transportation of dangerous goods – not offered.
  • Huizenga #46 – Allows volunteer pilot organizations to reimburse a volunteer pilot for certain aircraft operating expenses incurred by the pilot when making a charitable flight in support of the volunteer pilot organization’s mission – not offered.
  • Wexton #98 – Directs the FAA to evaluate space-based ADS-B – not offered.

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