President Obama gave a Valentine’s Day gift to the aviation community, Feb. 14, by signing into law a four-year, $63 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization package. Congress recently approved the deal after nearly five years and 23 short-term continuing resolutions. The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act passed by a 75-20 vote in the U.S. Senate Monday, Feb. 6, after being approved by the House of Representatives by a 248-169 vote Friday, Feb. 3.
In addition to providing funding through 2015, the legislation does not include any tax increases on jet fuel and aviation gasoline, nor does it include any of the proposed fees on both commercial and general aviation flights that President Obama requested.
Of particular interest to members of the Aircraft Electronics Association, the bill recommends an advisory panel be created consisting of government and industry representatives to study concerns from industry that the FAA's Aircraft Certification and Flight Standards District Offices routinely make inconsistent rulings and interpretations on certification policies and applications.
The bill also outlines plans for the continuation of NextGen development and recognizes the need to study and accommodate the increase in certification applications for NextGen technologies. Particularly beneficial for general aviation aircraft owners and operators in the progression of NextGen is the bill's call for public-private partnerships aimed at accelerating the installation of NextGen avionics on commercial and general aviation aircraft.
A portion of the reauthorization legislation includes language on annual safety inspections of foreign repair stations, including the establishment of a safety assessment system for Part 145 repair stations that dictates inspections by FAA personnel based on risk. The new system will accept inspection results conducted by foreign aviation authorities under a bilateral maintenance agreement. The legislation also requires the Department of Transportation to work with international regulatory agencies to create standards for drug and alcohol testing for foreign repair station workers, while abiding with the laws of the countries in which FAA certificated repair stations are located.
"We commend Congress for listening to the AEA and other industry participants who supported giving the FAA the authority and flexibility to assign its auditing resources based on a risk assessment, rather than the originally proposed fixed scheduled audits, in conducting foreign repair station inspections," said Paula Derks, AEA president. "This mandate will support the FAA's ability to focus its limited resources on high-risk facilities and operations, while being able to reduce its audits on proven faculties and operations.
"We also commend Congress on recognizing the sovereignty of the countries supporting the U.S. aircraft in their mandates for anti-drug and anti-alcohol programs. In finding the balance between the need for safe and secure air carrier maintenance and the sovereign rights of the foreign mechanics, Congress has mandated a reasonable approach that provides an equivalent and appropriate level of safety."