President Signs 5-Year FAA Reauthorization Bill into Law

October 5, 2018 – 4:30 p.m.

President Trump has signed the new Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill (H.R. 302) into law in a private Oval Office ceremony. The text of the bill as formally presented to the President and signed into law – all 462 pages of it – is here.

The signing ceremony was delayed several times because of Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-ME) lengthy and anxiously-awaited Senate floor speech on the Kavanaugh nomination and was not televised.

Legislators present at the ceremony included House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), accompanied by his father, former T&I chairman Bud Shuster (also R-PA), as well as Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation chairman John Thune (R-SD).

“Thanks to this new law, our Nation’s aviation programs will have the longest period of stability since 1982, and resilience to disaster will improve for communities across America,” said Shuster.  “The many reforms in this law will help strengthen American leadership in aviation, create jobs, and improve safety and service for passengers.  The law also shifts disaster programs to focus more on proactive actions that will help protect lives and property from flooding, hurricanes, fires, and other catastrophes.  I was proud to be joined by my father at the White House today as the President signed this bill into law.”

“This important legislation provides the FAA with the long-term funding it needs to carry out its safety mission and guarantees that the United States will continue to lead the world in all things aviation,” T&I ranking minority member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said in a statement.  “This legislation will improve aviation safety and the air travel experience for more than 900 million passengers who fly in the United States each year.  In addition, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which was also included in the legislation, will help communities struggling to recover from disasters and ensure we are building more resilient communities that can withstand major disasters in the future.  I applaud my House and Senate colleagues for their hard work to get this legislation signed into law.”

Sen. Thune said “With President Trump’s signature, the FAA Reauthorization Act will begin modernizing airport infrastructure, improving service for the flying public, enhancing transportation safety and security, and boosting aviation industry innovation. Because of this bill, our economy and passengers will benefit as airport construction projects will move forward, aviation manufacturing gets a boost, and passengers will gain new legal protections during the experience of air travel. This five-year bill is the longest FAA reauthorization since 1982.”

On the evening of October 1, the Senate voted, 90 to 7, to invoke cloture on the legislation and limit future debate to 30 hours. Then, after the 30 hours had expired, the Senate voted on Wednesday at mid-day to pass the measure, 93 to 6. Six Senators voted “no” on both cloture and passage: Barrasso (R-WY), Lee (R-UT), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Paul (R-KY), and Wyden (D-OR). A seventh, Pat Toomey (R-PA), oddly voted “no” on cloture and “yes” on passage.

Most of the 30 hours of debate was spent killing time or else talking about the Kavanaugh nomination, but on October 2, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) did find time to summarize the bill (see page S6427 here), concluding that “I am very proud of the bipartisan bill we have produced and the advancements it will make for all stakeholders in the aviation industry—from manufacturers to airline workers, to passengers.” Passengers were certainly on the mind of Sen. Ed Markey, who spoke shortly after Thune to say that he was voting against the bill because the final version did not include one of his amendments, adopted in committee in the Senate, for more transparency in the ancillary fees charged by airline on passengers.

The following day, Senator Ron Wyden explained his reasons for opposition – the fees issue cited by Markey, plus the bill’s failure to grant Essential Air Service subsidies to the Klamath Falls airport, and a law enforcement wiretap issue in another non-FAA part of the bill.

The new law gives the FAA a host of new duties (see here for just a list of the 119 new reports to Congress that must be made, mostly by the FAA, under the new law). So the next order of business should probably be to find someone to run the FAA, implement the new policies, and submit those reports. Since Michael Huerta’s fixed five-year term expired nine months ago, Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell has served as Acting Administrator, and the White House has yet to nominate someone for the Administrator position.

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