A long-sought FAA reauthorization that funds the agency for the next five years cleared the Senate this week and is headed to the president’s desk for signature.
The expected passage keeps capital funding for airport projects at current levels, contains several regulatory reforms including additional oversight for drone operators, and changes requirements for certain airline-related services.
“From an industry perspective, the bill is a mixed bag,” said Vince Gastgeb, Vice President of Community and Government Affairs. “We had hoped to see an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge, which would have further aided in airport infrastructure projects. However, from a PIT-centric perspective, the bill eliminates regulatory hurdles for airports engaging in large infrastructure projects.
“It also maintains Open Skies agreements which preserve access for international carriers to PIT, and streamlines land lease requirements that allow for greater local autonomy in real estate development.”
The bill’s contents include:
- Barring airlines from bumping passengers who already have been seated on the airplane.
- Requiring the FAA to set minimums for seat width and the distance between rows of seats.
- Stating that passengers must be allowed to check strollers when flying with small children and that pregnant passengers can board ahead of others.
- Prohibiting cell phone calls on planes.
- Keeping the current federal Passenger Facility Charge at $4.50, but streamlining processes for airports to use those funds.
- Continuing the Essential Air Service program, which provides federal funding for air service to rural communities, including eight markets that fly to PIT.
The bill also provides new restrictions for recreational flight of drones.
“In terms of drone usage, most significantly, it prevents drone flight within five miles of most large commercial airports unless the operator receives advance FAA permission,” said Eric Smith, an aviation attorney who works with PIT on drone regulation. “It certainly improves safety. We want to get the word out and improve outreach and education.”
TSA will also see some reforms including formally establishing an innovation task force and ending the practice of TSA allowing some people who are not enrolled in Trusted Traveler programs to use the PreCheck lanes.