United States leadership in technology and innovation, along with a dynamic workforce, will define the future of aviation
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Aviation Subcommittee Chair Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023 to ensure the United States has safe, reliable and resilient air travel, stronger consumer protections for the flying public, advanced research in aviation innovation and a modernized national airspace system to maintain the gold standard in aviation safety for years to come.
“When we fly we expect to get where we’re going, safely, at a reasonable cost. But with mass flight cancellations, runway near-misses, and skyrocketing prices, Americans are getting frustrated,” said Sen. Cantwell. “The bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act will help get the air travel system soaring again by improving safety and service. The bill provides funding for the latest safety technology on runways, and to hire more air traffic controllers, pilots, and mechanics. The bill also sets the first-ever clear ticket refund standards for delayed flights and will penalize airlines that sell tickets on flights that they don’t have the staff or technology to operate. I look forward to moving the legislation through the Committee.”
“As drafted, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization of 2023 is a first step toward ensuring that the FAA can carry out its core mission of ensuring the safety of the flying public,” said Sen. Cruz and Sen. Moran. “While there is much work to be done to ensure that this legislation positions the FAA to handle the challenges we face today and the innovation of the future, we want to thank our colleagues for their hard work and dedication to this critical effort. As we continue to improve this legislation to the benefit of our constituents, we are committed to honoring the longstanding tradition that this vital legislation receives broad, bipartisan support.”
“The FAA Reauthorization Act is a win for aviation safety advocates and the flying public,” said Sen. Duckworth. “As Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, I’m so proud that this bill includes many of my priorities—including a modified version of the EVAC Act—to make flying safer and more accessible for all Americans. I’m grateful to my colleagues for working together to produce a strong, bipartisan bill that helps modernize the FAA, boosts the aviation workforce, increases consumer protections and makes sure people with a disability are seen and heard.”
Following massive flight disruptions, runway incursions, near misses and a ground stop of the FAA’s National Airspace System, the American people are questioning the reliability and resiliency of systems underlying U.S. air transportation. As the airspace becomes more congested and we introduce new entrants, there is a need for upgrades and investments in technology systems to ensure the safety of the flying public. Consumers have logged record numbers of complaints with the Department of Transportation, with refunds consistently listed as a top complaint. On top of other challenges, the aviation workforce has faced unprecedented staffing shortages and hiring red tape. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 will reauthorize the agency for the next five years and provide new guidance and standards for the agency, airlines, manufacturers and the aviation workforce.
This reauthorization is the result of months-long bipartisan negotiations among the leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee between Chair Cantwell, Ranking Member Cruz, and Subcommittee leadership Chair Duckworth and Ranking Member Moran.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 will:
Authorizes more than $107 billion in appropriations for the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal years 2024 through 2028:
- $67.5 billion for FAA operations to fund key safety programs, from aircraft certification reform to air carrier oversight, while enabling the hiring, training and retention of safety critical staff, from air traffic controllers to technical engineers.
- $18.2 billion for FAA facilities and equipment to fund the modernizing of key technologies, systems and equipment to ensure the resilience and development of the world’s most complex airspace system.
- $20 billion for FAA airport improvement grants to support more than 3,300 airports nationwide and promote a sustainable and resilient infrastructure to meet increasing demand and integration of emerging technologies.
- $1.8 billion for FAA research, engineering and development, which will help America keep competitive in the global race for innovative and sustainable aerospace technology.
Modernizing the National Airspace System and Leading Global Aviation Innovation
- Modernizes FAA Systems: This bill requires the FAA to complete the last stage of NextGen by December 31, 2025, and upgrade the National Airspace System with the latest software and infrastructure, enabling the transition from legacy systems.
- Creates a New Innovation Office: This bill establishes a new airspace innovation office to lead the continued modernization of the airspace system and meet the needs of a diverse set of airspace users, such as advanced air mobility.
- Plans for Future Airspace Technology: This bill provides the FAA with resources and direction to complete the next stage of airspace modernization by deploying new air traffic management and surveillance technologies and incorporating the lessons learned from previous modernization efforts.
- Facilitates Commercial Use of Drones and Unmanned Aircraft: This bill directs the FAA to establish a pathway for beyond visual line-of-sight operations and create two additional test sites for companies to start using unmanned aircraft (UAS) for package delivery or other operations. This bill also gives the FAA enforcement authority to prohibit unauthorized or unsafe use of UAS.
- Extends the BEYOND program: Through partnerships with state, local and Tribal governments, the BEYOND program continues the progress made under the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. This 4-year initiative, which launched on October 26, 2020, centers around developing standards, engaging communities and informing policies to facilitate the safe deployment and operation of drones.
- Supports Pathways to Certifying Vertical Take-off, Powered-lift Aircraft: This bill supports pathways and additional certainty needed for the safety certification of advanced air mobility powered-lift aircraft, commonly referred to as “air taxis,” which are capable of vertical take-off and landing.
Improving Aviation Safety
- Stops Runway “Close Calls”: This bill requires the FAA to increase runway safety by deploying the latest airport surface detection equipment and technologies.
- Enhances Aircraft Certification Reforms: This bill builds upon the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act of 2020 (ACSAA) by establishing new transparency, oversight and accountability requirements to promote full compliance with FAA safety standards for designing and manufacturing aircraft.
- Strengthens FAA’s Oversight of Foreign Repair Stations: This bill mandates increased scrutiny of foreign maintenance and repair stations working on U.S. aircraft to ensure one level of safety and support for U.S.-certified aircraft mechanics.
- Updates Air Tour and Helicopter Safety Requirements: Responding to NTSB recommendations for recent accidents, the bill requires stronger safety requirements for commercial air tour and helicopter operations through increased FAA oversight, new safety management systems, equipment upgrades and flight data monitoring.
- Mandates New Cockpit Voice Recording Technologies: The bill requires new 25-hour cockpit recording devices to preserve critical data to inform future safety reforms consistent with National Transportation Safety Board recommendations.
- Tracks High-Altitude Balloons: Following recent U.S. airspace intrusions, this bill requires the FAA to establish a new system and requirements for continuous aircraft tracking, including the altitude, location and identity of high-altitude balloons.
- Improves Cabin Air Safety: This bill benefits passengers and airline crewmembers by requiring the FAA to evaluate cabin air quality and advance rules for airlines to provide training and reporting for fume events onboard commercial aircraft from engine oil and hydraulic fluid.
- Protects Against Cyber Security Threats to Aircrafts: This bill helps protect against cyber security threats against aircraft avionics, including flight critical systems, through new FAA requirements and review of FAA’s current strategic framework for aviation security.
- Raises International Safety Bar for Airline Operations: The bill codifies for the first time U.S. safety requirements for foreign airlines operating to the United States or code-sharing with U.S. airlines through FAA assessments of safety oversight by foreign countries.
- Builds FAA Global Aviation Safety Leadership: This bill renews the agency’s engagement with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and bilateral partners to build up FAA’s aviation safety leadership in an increasingly competitive global environment.
Growing the Aviation Workforce and Creating Jobs to Meet Demand
- Builds the Aviation Pipeline, Recruitment and Education: This bill expands and increases funding for the FAA’s Aviation Workforce Development Grant Program to grow the aviation workforce pipeline and support the education and recruitment of pilots, maintenance technicians and aircraft manufacturing technical workers. The bill also requires the FAA to develop a national plan to address critical shortages in the industry.
- Addresses the Air Traffic Control Shortages: This bill requires the FAA to revise and implement improved air traffic control staffing standards, based on a model developed with the labor workforce, to better address staffing shortages and meet increasing demand. This bill also expands FAA air traffic control training capacity while modernizing the training process for FAA controllers and Federal Contract Tower Program controllers.
- Expands ATC Controller Training Capacity: This bill expands FAA air traffic control training capacity with a new FAA academy and modernizes the training process for FAA controllers and Federal Contract Tower Program controllers.
- Jumpstarts Hiring for the FAA Safety Workforce: This bill requires the FAA to better leverage its direct hire authority to fill key safety positions and gaps in the technical workforce related to aircraft certification.
- Streamlines Job Pathways for Veterans: This bill streamlines the transition for military servicemembers to civil aviation maintenance careers and increases the FAA’s outreach and engagement on pathways to attain civilian mechanic certifications. The aviation industry captures less than 10% of military aviation maintenance technicians.
- Supports Women in Aviation: This bill establishes a new Women in Aviation Advisory Committee at DOT, consistent with the Women in Aviation Advisory Board’s chief recommendation, to focus on bringing more women into aviation careers and the entire industry. Currently, less than 10% of licensed pilots are women and less than 3% are airline captains.
- Improves Flight Attendant Self-Defense Training: This bill enhances self-defense training for flight attendants to protect themselves and better respond to unruly passenger incidents and other threats.
- Supports Pilot Mental Health: This bill establishes the Aviation Medical Innovation and Modernization Working Group to address pilot mental health. The bill also improves the FAA’s ability to issue special medical approvals to address backlogs and get healthy pilots back to work.
Connecting More of America with Expanded Air Travel Service
- Brings More Air Service to Rural and Underserved Areas: This bill strengthens the Essential Air Service (EAS) program by providing additional tools to ensure small and rural communities remain connected to the National Airspace System. Because most economic development occurs within 10 miles of an airport, it is critical that smaller communities have the scheduled air service necessary to make their economies vibrant. The EAS program benefits approximately 60 communities in Alaska and 115 communities in the lower 48 states that otherwise would not receive any scheduled air service.
- Broadens Eligibility Requirement for EAS Airlines: This bill removes antiquated aircraft limitations to ensure that EAS communities receive as many bids as possible from a variety of airlines.
- Protects Service to Small Airports: This bill incentivizes airlines to honor their EAS contracts by giving DOT the ability to penalize airlines that seek to abandon EAS communities and make it harder for airlines to terminate their contracts.
- Funds Needed Service Improvements for Small Airports: This bill doubles funding for Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grants to $20 million per year while providing more flexibility for grant recipients. SCASD grants are designed to help small communities attract new air service.
Modernizing America’s Airport Infrastructure
- Rebuilds Airports, Terminals and Runways: This bill increases Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding levels over the next five years from $3.35 billion to $4.0 billion to build modern airport infrastructure.
- Supports Small Airports with Modern Infrastructure and Technology: This bill ensures small airports are not left behind and the needs of small communities and rural airports are met through stable AIP funding and an increased share of the federal grant that acknowledges the limited resources of these airports.
- Disposes of Harmful Airport Firefighting Chemicals: This bill establishes a new grant program to help airports dispose of PFAS, harmful forever chemicals, that are used in firefighting foam to put out fires on runways and airfields and replace it with safer solutions for firefighters.
- Improves Airport Accessibility: This bill creates a new FAA pilot program to award grants to airports to carry out capital projects to upgrade the accessibility of commercial service airports for people with disabilities.
Improving Consumer Protections and Standards for A Better Flying Experience
- Sets Clear Right to Refunds: For the first time, passengers will have clear standards in law for refunds when an airline cancels or significantly delays a flight. And for delays, passengers will now know for certain when a refund is due: a 3-hour delay for domestic flights and a 6-hour delay for international flights. Finally, airlines will be required to have an easy-to-find refund request button at the top of their websites so that passengers don’t have to jump through hoops to be made whole.
- Strengthens the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection: The bill authorizes, for the first time, the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, which will be led by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Aviation Consumer Protection to ensure that there is an active, politically accountable cop on the beat. By elevating and firmly establishing this office, passengers can be assured that the DOT has the resources to fight for their interests.
- Doubles Civil Penalties for Violations: To hold airlines accountable, the bill doubles the DOT’s statutory civil penalty amount for aviation consumer violations from $25,000 per violation to $50,000.
- Provides Accountability for Airline Flight Scheduling: Airlines can no longer publish unrealistic and deceptive flight schedules that lead to cancellations and delays—such as knowingly selling tickets when they lack the staffing and technology to properly operate their network—without any repercussions. Airlines must be properly staffed and resourced to operate the flights they sell.
- Improves Communication with Consumers When Things Go Wrong: During Southwest’s system meltdown, the airline failed to communicate with passengers left stranded at airports. And other airlines had dropped their call centers altogether or started to charge fees to speak to live agents on the phone. No longer. This bill requires airlines to provide free, 24/7 access to customer service agents by phone, live chat or text message and the ability to speak with a customer service agent.
- Requires Family Seating: This bill prohibits airlines from charging fees for families to sit together. Working families shouldn’t have to be burdened by fees just so their young child isn’t seated next to a stranger.
- Improves Transparency for Fees and Consumer Protections: Under the bill, airlines must now display core ancillary fees to customers prior to booking, and electronic boarding passes and itineraries must have a link to DOT’s aviation consumer protection website and to DOT’s complaint form. The bill also requires airports to display “know your rights” posters with information about passenger rights related to refunds, delays and cancellations, and lost and delayed baggage.
- Airline Passenger Service Standards Comparison Dashboard: The bill requires the DOT to permanently operate and update an online dashboard to compare information about airline family seating policies and consumer redress in the event of a delay or cancellation where the airline is at fault. Since DOT launched its family seating dashboard earlier this year, several airlines have changed their policies to guarantee that families can sit together for free. And thanks to the bill, DOT will have to create another dashboard that shows consumers the minimum seat sizes for each U.S. airline.
Improving Aircraft Accessibility
- Improves Evacuation Standards: This bill requires modernization and improvements to aircraft evacuation standards by requiring FAA to conduct a comprehensive study on aircraft evacuation and have an expert panel evaluate gaps in current standards and operating procedures and make recommendations. FAA must initiate a rulemaking on any recommendations the FAA Administrator deems appropriate. The FAA’s current standards require that passengers—regardless of age or ability—be able to evacuate aircraft within 90 seconds, but these standards must be updated to account for real-life conditions.
- Extends the Disabilities Advisory Committee: The bill extends the Disabilities Advisory Committee through 2028, which oversees the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities and makes recommendations to the FAA.
- Prevents Damage to Wheelchairs: The bill empowers consumers with information on cargo hold dimensions and requires training for airline personnel on safely storing wheelchairs and scooters to avoid leaving flyers with disabilities with damaged or broken mobile assistance.
- Accommodates Seating Requests for Passengers with Disabilities: This bill allows passengers with disabilities to request seating locations on aircraft to accommodate disability-related needs, such as being close to a restroom, being seated with a companion or assistant or providing more legroom.
- Offers Onboard Wheelchair Requests: This bill ensures customers know they can reserve onboard wheelchairs.
Continuing Research and Development for Innovative Aviation Technologies
- Expands Research at FAA’s Joint Centers of Excellence for Advanced Materials: This bill expands the Joint Centers of Excellence for Advanced Materials, co-lead by the University of Washington and Wichita State University, to further research on innovative advanced materials and composites that could make aircraft lighter and more fuel efficient and improve aircraft safety and accessibility for individuals with disabilities.
- Improves Modernization of FAA Systems Research: This bill creates a new research program to ensure the continued modernization the FAA’s aviation information systems.
- Supports Innovative Aircraft Jet Fuels Research: This bill expands critical research at the FAA Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment (ASCENT) to promote safety, cut carbon emissions, and make commercial aviation more fuel efficient.
- Furthers UAS and AAM Research: This bill expands FAA research to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems and advanced air mobility into the national airspace system, including making it easier for first responders to use drones for disaster response.
- Improves Federal Commercial Aviation Partnerships: This bill enhances FAA and NASA commercial aviation coordination and partnerships on advanced aviation technologies and innovative aeronautics research and development.
- Small Business Recognition: This bill levels the playing field for small businesses to be able to further participate in the FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise Program.
- Creates Pathways for New Entrant Technologies: This bill works to research how to best introduce emerging aviation technologies into the airspace, including electric propulsion and hypersonic aircraft.
Read the bill text here.