Chairman Rockefeller Hails Senate Passage of Bipartisan Aviation Bill

Bill Improves Airline Safety, Modernizes America's Air Traffic Control System, and Supports Jobs

March 22, 2010

SCom: AviationWASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and, Transportation, applauded Senate passage of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (S.1451). The bill unanimously passed the Senate by a vote of 93-0.

Chairman Rockefeller’s legislation strengthens airline safety, modernizes America’s air traffic control system, and supports jobs. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), and Jim DeMint (R-SC) cosponsored the bill.

“Our aviation system moves 30,000 flights a day and more than 700 million people a year,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “Demand for air travel is only expected to increase in the coming years. The U.S. has always been the world’s leader in aviation. I want to keep it that way. After so many years of delay, this bill takes significant steps to improve safety and modernize our air transportation system, while supporting jobs and stimulating our economy. I am pleased the Senate moved quickly to approve this critically important legislation.”


Chairman Rockefeller made airline safety a top priority in the bill. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and, Transportation held numerous hearings on strengthening and improving airline safety over the past year.

“Statistically, the U.S. has the safest air transportation system in the world,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “But numbers alone do not reassure me that our nation’s aviation system is as safe as it could be. We need to do better by the American people. Our top aviation priority must always be the safety of our skies. This bill takes significant steps to improve pilot training, address flight crew fatigue, and reform air carrier employment practices.”

The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act strengthens airline safety by: 

  • Taking steps to ensure “one level of safety” for all commercial flights. The bill mandates that all carriers adopt Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP), Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) programs and Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) programs.
  • Authorizing $8.1 billion to support airport infrastructure through the Airport Improvement Program (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 program 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 U.S. aircraft, requiring a minimum of two inspections a year.


America’s air traffic control system is still using WWII-era technology. Chairman Rockefeller made modernizing America’s air traffic control system a primary component of the bill.

“Modernizing America’s embarrassingly obsolete air traffic control system is one of my top priorities,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “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 FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act includes several provisions to modernize the nation’s air transportation system, and to ensure that the FAA adopts the next generation of air traffic control technology in a timely and effective manner. The bill:

  • 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 modernization programs.
  • Establishes a “Chief NextGen Officer” position at FAA to oversee implementation of all NextGen programs, and provide greater accountability over the modernization process.


Commercial air service is critical to the economic development of small communities. One of the key components all businesses look for when deciding to locate their operations in a community is the quality of the local air service.

“Airports are economic engines for many small communities,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “They help people stay connected to jobs and families. I know how important airports are to local communities. I have witnessed the impact of aviation in my home state of West Virginia. Everyone, everywhere, needs to be connected to our national air transportation system. I’m proud this bill provides new investments to help small communities attract air service and secure jobs.”

Chairman Rockefeller included key provisions in the bill to strengthen the federal government’s commitment to community air service. The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act improves access to air service for small and rural communities by:

  • Substantially increasing authorized funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) to $175 million annually, a $48 million increase.
  • Proposing a number of improvements to the EAS program to allow communities greater flexibility in attracting desired air service, including: (1) permitting new financial incentives into contracts with EAS carriers to encourage better service; (2) allowing longer-term EAS contracts if such an arrangement is in the public interest; (3) allowing the development of incentives for large airlines to code-share on service to small communities; and (4) requiring large airlines to code-share on EAS flights in up to 10 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 percent.