House, Senate Come to Agreement on FAA Reauthorization

Leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee have come to an agreement on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill – the ‘FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 – which includes provisions related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The current FAA reauthorization expires on July 15. The new measure, once passed, will extend the authorization and taxes funding the FAA’s programs through Sept. 30, 2017, at the current funding levels. The House and Senate each proposed their own version of the bill earlier this year.

According to a summary of the extension, UAS provisions include as follows: “Streamlines processes for approval and interagency cooperation to deploy unmanned aircraft during emergencies, such as disaster responses and wildfires; prohibits unmanned aircraft users from interfering with emergency response activities, including wildfire suppression, and raises civil penalties to not more than $20,000 for those found in violation; and creates new processes to detect, identify and mitigate unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft around airports and critical infrastructure.”

In addition, according to the full text of the bill, the FAA must “convene industry stakeholders to facilitate the development of consensus standards for remotely identifying operators and owners of [UAS].” In addition, the agency must work with other stakeholders, including NASA, to continue developing a “research plan for unmanned aircraft systems traffic management” (UTM), submit the plan to Congress, create a UTM pilot program, and conclude it after two years.

In a statement, the Small UAV Coalition – which recently wrote a letter to the House and Senate committee leaders to urge them to pass several UAS-related provisions – says it is pleased the extension includes the establishment of the UTM, “a critical component of safe, efficient and widespread commercial UAS operations.”

However, the group is voicing its disappointment over the lack of a “framework for small UAS to deliver goods,” as well as a micro UAS classification, which was proposed in the House reauthorization bill and would have separated drones weighing under 4.4 lbs. into their own operational category.

The Senate and House are expected to vote on the bill this week or next, notes Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who says the bill also includes his proposal for a longer-term authorization of the six FAA UAS test sites.

Under current law, the test sites’ authorization would have expired in February 2017, but the amendment will extend their authorization through February 2020. The Senate approved Hoeven’s provision for a five-year extension when it passed its FAA reauthorization bill in April; however, the House didn’t pass an FAA reauthorization measure. As a result, Hoeven says he was forced to negotiate it and secured a three-year UAS reauthorization even though the FAA extension is only for one year.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn.; Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.; Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D.; and Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Fla., released the following joint statement:

“We have reached an agreement on an FAA extension that provides much-needed stability for our aviation system through September 2017. This bill includes significant airport security reforms, as well as critical aviation safety provisions and time-sensitive enhancements for air travelers.

“We look forward to sending this measure to the president before the July 15 expiration of the FAA’s current authorization. Recognizing that this is a year-long extension, we are also committed to working together on a longer-term reauthorization that includes other important reforms benefiting all passengers and Americans who depend on a safe aviation system.”

In a separate statement, Sen. Thune says, “The sooner we get this bill to the president’s desk, the sooner the FAA can get to work implementing these reforms.”


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