23-Mar-2010 5:21 PM

US Senate unanimously passes the FAA Air Transportation Modernisation and Safety Improvement Act

US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman, Senator John D (Jay) Rockefeller IV, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, separately applauded (22-Mar-2010) the Senate passage of the FAA Air Transportation Modernisation and Safety Improvement Act (S.1451). The bill unanimously passed the Senate by a vote of 93-0. The legislation aims to strengthen airline safety, modernise the air traffic control system, and supports jobs, as follows:

  • Improving airline safety: The Act strengthens airline safety by:
    • Taking steps to ensure “one level of safety” for all commercial services. The bill mandates that all carriers adopt Aviation Safety Action Programmes (ASAP), Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) programmes and Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) programmes;
    • Authorising USD8.1 billion to support airport infrastructure through the Airport Improvement Programme (AIP);
    • Requiring airlines to examine a pilot’s entire flight history, including previous tests of flying skills, before the pilot is hired;
    • Requiring air carriers to implement a formal remedial training programme for underperforming pilots;
    • Requiring the FAA to re-evaluate pilot training and qualification regulations to ensure pilots have the proper skills and experience. Should the FAA fail to do this by the end of 2011, all air carrier pilots will be required to have logged at least 1,500 flight hours before flying an aircraft with paying customers aboard;
    • Requiring the FAA to revise the flight and duty time regulations for commercial air carrier pilots and issue the final rule within one year to address pilot fatigue. The existing FAA guidelines on flight time and duty limitations were established in the 1940s without significant modification;
    • Ensuring adequate inspection of all foreign aircraft repair and maintenance stations that work on US aircraft, requiring a minimum of two inspections a year.
  • Modernising America's Aviation system: The Bill plans to modernise America's ATC system which is still using WWII-era technology, in a "timely and effective manner", with Chairman Rockefeller commenting, "modernising America’s embarrassingly obsolete air traffic control system is one of my top priorities/ This could not be more important – or more urgent. Our future as the world’s leader in aviation, our safety, and our economy, depend on it.” The Act:
    • Establishes clear deadlines for the adoption of existing Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) navigation and surveillance technology. For example, the bill requires the development of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) and Area Navigation (RNAV) procedures at the busiest 35 airports by 2014, and for the entire National Airspace System (NAS) by 2018;
    • Directs the FAA to accelerate planned timelines for integrating Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology into the NAS, requiring the use of “ADS-B Out” on all aircraft by 2015 and the use of “ADS-B In” on all aircraft by 2018;
    • Creates an “Air Traffic Control Modernization Oversight Board” to provide better oversight of FAA’s modernisation programmes;
    • Establishes a “Chief NextGen Officer” position at FAA to oversee implementation of all NextGen programmes, and provide greater accountability over the modernization process.
  • Improving access to air service: The Bill also plans to strengthen the federal government’s commitment to community air service and providing air service for small and rural communities by:
    • Substantially increasing authorised funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) to USD175 million annually, a USD48 million increase;
    • Proposing a number of improvements to the EAS programme to allow communities greater flexibility in attracting desired air service, including: permitting new financial incentives into contracts with EAS carriers to encourage better service; allowing longer-term EAS contracts if such an arrangement is in the public interest;  allowing the development of incentives for large airlines to code-share on service to small communities; and requiring large airlines to code-share on EAS flights in up to ten communities;
    • Establishing an Office of Rural Aviation within the Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus on the development of longer-term EAS contracts;
    • Extending a provision that raises the federal share for certain small airport improvement projects to 95%. [more - Senator Rockefeller] [more - Senator Hutchison] [more - Perspective]

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