This May 16, President Joe Biden signed the long-overdue bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. This was a wide-ranging bill, whose impact goes well beyond the FAA – indeed, the entire US commercial aviation community. As the president noted, “This was a is a big win for travelers, the aviation workforce, and our economy. It will expand critical protections for air travelers, strengthen safety standards, and support pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers.”

The legislation will also fund and help advance topics and issues of direct relevance to CAT’s focus on training and safety, including the hiring and training of additional air traffic controllers. 

Yet, as important, was the absence of other key issues in this legislation. In one case, the fight will continue on Capitol Hill over the 1,500-hour rule for training US pilots. Congress rejected efforts through this legislative cycle to count more hours of quality, certified simulator time toward the 1,500-hour rule. This legislation also holds fast the mandatory retirement age for pilots at 65, after a spirited debate among community stakeholders and their congressional proponents to raise the age to 67. 

Shifting Congressional Committee Memberships

With the FAA bill enacted it’s also worth taking an early glance at some of the imminent changes this November’s national elections will have on the key congressional committees with oversight on commercial aviation matters, including training – the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.     

All US House members will be up for reelection this November. While not all senators will face reelection, a number have announced their intentions to retire. 

On this Senate committee, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona, has been a strong advocate for changing the 1,500-hour rule. Sinema is retiring from the Senate. Senator John Thune, South Dakota, another proponent for increasing the amount of simulator time toward pilot certification, is an oft-mentioned candidate to advance to a Republican party leadership position in the chamber, after Senator Mitch McConnell steps aside to devote more time to routine legislative matters. Another high-profile committee member, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Illinois, remains a vigorous proponent for maintaining the 1,500-hour rule, and has even suggested increasing the live training piece of the rule. The Illinois Democrat is not up for election this cycle. 

On the other side of Capitol Hill, T&I Committee Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves, Louisiana, has been a supporter of raising the retirement rule to 67 and other changes to the pilot career continuum. Redistricting in his home state has placed the lawmaker into what observers call an increasingly competitive district. Not waiting for November, Representative Tim Kennedy, New York was sworn into office this month after winning a recent special election to replace former Rep. Brian Higgins. Higgins was a steady opponent of changes to the 1,500-hour rule, noting in part, his district’s proximity to the Colgan Flight 3407 crash. Representative Jesús García, Illinois, a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has remained an opponent to making any changes to US pilot retirement age. The congressman initiated a letter during the final days of the authorization bill’s deliberations, joined by 121 Members of Congress, successfully urging leadership to reject raising the retirement age. Garcia and most other Democrats who favored maintaining the current age are competing for reelection.   

Eye On November  

CAT will monitor and report on the impact this November’s US elections will have on the nation’s commercial aviation industry.     

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