House lawmakers passed a sweeping aviation bill last week with major policy changes aimed at alleviating air travel issue and boosting workforce. The legislation, titled the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935), passed by 351-69 vote.
The bill will re-authorize the Federal Aviation Administration with over $100 billion in funding for aviation operations, equipment, and airports over five years.
The bipartisan legislation adopts a several primary focuses, discussed in detail in the sections below:
- Improvement of consumer experience: Air travel has boomed as more passengers have taken to the skies since the peak of the pandemic, which has led to frustration from consumers and lawmakers over flight disruptions and air traffic controller shortages. Lawmakers also sought to address complaints over FAA backlogs.
- Pilot retirement age: The final bill includes a contentious provision that raises the commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67. Supporters applaud the retention-focused addition that will allow continued mentorship for new officers from experienced captains.
Provisions dedicated to further research and mitigation of aviation noise were championed by several House lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.
Rep. Adam Smith, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, fought for the inclusion of community engagement provisions. One such provision will create an Airport Community of Interest Task Force, focused evaluating and improving existing processes and mechanisms for engaging aviation noise impacted communities.
The task force will be comprised of industry stakeholders, experts on air traffic planning, local government officials, and airport communities. The House bill outlines several roles for the group, including providing recommendations on FAA community engagement, noise abatement efforts, air traffic changes, and noise complaint processes.
Other noise related additions include the appointment of an Aviation Noise officer to act as a liaison to affected community groups, a section dedicated to consideration of noise impact when rerouting aircrafts, and further research on the effectiveness of the DNL metric.
The measure incorporates bills (H.R. 3796) to extend ticket and fuel taxes that support the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and bolster FAA research (H.R. 3559). The chamber’s action on the bill puts the House ahead of the Senate — which hasn’t yet advanced its own FAA bill through committee. The House bill, which aims to streamline FAA processes and includes the first-ever title focused on general aviation, has secured support from hundreds of groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, Airlines for America, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and the Regional Airline Association.
However, consumer groups and some Democrats have raised concerns that the legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect flyers or the aviation workforce.
Labor unions have pushed back against some provisions in the bill, urging lawmakers to remove the increase to the commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67. Thousands of certified pilots will reach the mandatory retirement age each year over the next two decades, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Some pilots and groups representing regional and low-cost airlines have lobbied Congress for the age boost. But pilot labor unions have been fiercely opposed to it — arguing that it raises safety concerns and would conflict with international standards. However, pilot unions scored a win when the House voted to strip a proposal out of the bill that would have counted more hours in a simulator toward pilot training requirements.
The House Rules Committee blocked an amendment for consideration that would have removed the retirement age increase from the bill.
The White House has expressed this week raising concerns about various provisions in the bill — including the pilot age increase.
The House legislation has a section on bolstering the passenger experience on planes. The bill eases some requirements for airlines to show the total ticket price in advertising. The Biden administration stated that it would push Congress to mandate up-front disclosure of add-on fees, automatic refunds and compensation for flight disruptions that can be controlled, such as staff and schedule changes.
Congressman Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, states the bill takes steps to make passengers whole, touting that it would require airlines to have policies on food and hotel expenses for flight disruptions.
The House measure would also launch a rulemaking to allow an accompanying adult to sit with young children on a plane without charging a fee. This provision directs the department not to impose change in the overall policy for an air carrier that has open or flexible seating.
Amending the Bill
The House sped through adopting a slate of dozens of non-controversial amendments over its two days of votes on the floor — including mandating complimentary water for passengers on planes. Another provision directs the FAA to consider whether in-flight Wi-Fi exposes passenger data.
The House also rejected a slew of more controversial proposals in standalone votes, including one that proposed striking funding for the Essential Air Service. In a win for lawmakers in the D.C. area, lawmakers also voted down a highly debated proposal that would have added more long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport, the closest airport to Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers voted to adopt provisions to the bill to retrofit planes with secondary barriers to better protect pilots. Another measure would alter reporting directives for the department to provide more detailed information about flight disruption causes. The amendments also mandate a slew of new watchdog probes to look into recent disruptions, including provisions for the GAO to study flight disruption over the July 4 weekend, flight delays in Northeast airports, pilot shortages and the impact of airline mergers for consumers.
Deadline Is Drawing Near
The FAA’s current authority expires after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 — putting pressure on lawmakers to move quickly on the legislation. The House bill would also reauthorize the National Transportation Safety Board, the independent agency that investigates major transportation crashes. The legislation would need to be negotiated between the two chambers to move forward. The Senate stalled on its version of FAA legislation (S. 1939), canceling its original committee markup as Senators’ differences over DCA flights and pilot training requirements challenged its path forward.
House lawmakers have been focused on getting their bill across the finish line in their chamber ahead of the August recess. Outside groups have warned that short-term extensions — which lawmakers often rely on when they can’t come to agreement — would be detrimental to the aviation industry.