As most routine activity inside the Washington, DC Beltway is grinding to a halt during the traditional August recess and holiday period, the congressional “to do list” for attention after the US Labor Day weekend now includes passage and enactment of the 2023 FAA Reauthorization Act.

The US House of Representatives passed its version of the bill (The Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (HR 3935) on July 20.

The legislation has left key, contentious legislative topics of interest to the US commercial aviation community on the table, “teed up” for what are certain to be spirited deliberations in the US Senate, and beyond that in Senate-House conference committee. 

In one case, the US House bill left intact the 1,500-hour rule for US pilot qualification (aka ‘the ATP rule’). Discussions to accept a to-be-determined number of hours accumulated in full-flight simulator and other flight training devices toward the total are certain to emerge in the upper chamber. Sen. Kristen Sinema (I-Arizona) and other leading senators remain proponents of modifying the 1,500-hour rule, while Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and others are advocates for retaining, and even strengthening, live-flight hour requirements to achieve the 1,500-hour mark. 

While the Senate will also grapple with the House’s position to raise the retirement age for US commercial pilots from 65 to 67, it will further consider other issues in the community’s broader training enterprise.

Strengthening ATC Training

Another training issue in the evolving FAA bill is FAA Research and Development Section 1145 on Air Traffic Control training. The legislation reads, in part, that subject to the availability of appropriations for such purpose, the Administrator shall carry out a research program to evaluate opportunities to modernize, enhance, and streamline training time to become a Certified Professional Controller. Some attention-getting, forward-leaning language to enhance learning technology-enabled instruction calls “for the assessment of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, adaptive computer-based simulation, virtual reality, or augmented reality, to enhance controller knowledge retention, improve performance, and improve the effectiveness of training time.” 

The House bill then calls for the FAA to “develop a timeline to deploy proven advanced technologies and associated processes for accreditation in training programs and training facilities within the national airspace system; and include collaboration with labor organizations and other stakeholders.” Congressional direction would be incomplete without filing a report. To that end, not later than one year after enactment, the FAA administrator shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the findings of the research.

Next Discussion?

The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, with oversight of the FAA, failed to produce FAA Reauthorization legislation at its June 15 session for consideration by the wider Senate. As of this writing, the committee had not listed a scheduled date to resume deliberations on its version of the FAA bill. 

 CAT will be following and reporting on the FAA bill’s journey through the legislative process.