On the heels of the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Aviation Subcommittee filing their FAA reauthorization bill, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and its Aviation Subcommittee filed its companion legislation – the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023.

Following the committee’s markup on the bill, the legislation will advance to the Senate for wider debate and approval before being sent to conference to reconcile differences with the House version of this legislation. A final reauthorization bill is conceptually due on President Biden’s desk for signature not later than 30 September, so it may take force at the start of FY2024 on October 1. 

The US traveling public and the nation’s aerospace and commercial aviation industries should be heartened by the attempts of the US Senate and US House committees with oversight on aviation to find common ground in areas of safety, advancing new technology and other developments. While differences exist on topics in the two initial bills, there is the probability the differences will be narrowed or reconciled as the legislative pieces advance through committee and conference hearings, and other deliberations.    

Key sections of the Senate legislation contain aviation training and aviation safety provisions.

Continue SMS Implementation 

In Section 320, Safety Management Systems, Congress pointed out that in January the FAA released a notice of proposed rule making to update and expand the requirements for safety management systems to all Part 135 certificate holders, Part 91.147 air tour operators and certain Part 21 Type Certificate and Production Certificate holders. This legislation directs the FAA Administrator to “ensure that safety management systems program requirements can be appropriately scaled to the size and complexity of each operator.”   

Bolstering Aviation Workforce

The legislation seeks to increase the numbers and competencies of qualified employees throughout the FAA and the US commercial aviation industry. Section 507, Crewmember Self-Defense Training, directs TSA, in consultation with other organizations, to increase the effectiveness of initial and recurrent self-defense training for these professionals. 

Section 530, Improved Access to Air Traffic Control Simulation Training, directs the FAA Administrator to make tower simulator systems more accessible to all air traffic controller specialists as assigned to an air traffic control tower of the FAA, regardless of facility assignment.

Pilots for Powered-Lift

The Senate bill, similar to the House version, contains important provisions and language to advance the safe introduction and integration of next-generation aircraft into the US national airspace. One illustrative provision, Section 825, Rules for Operation of Powered-Lift Aircraft, states that not later than December 31, 2024, the Administrator shall finalize a Powered-Lift Special Federal Aviation Regulation establishing a procedure for certifying pilots and the operation of powered-lift aircraft capable of transporting passengers and cargo.

Common Ground

Similar to the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Act, the Senate committee also inserted language to create an innovative office at FAA and to stop runway “close calls.” Of special interest is the direction to FAA to increase runway safety by deploying the latest airport surface detection equipment and technologies.