Increases FAA safety inspectors, air traffic controllers, FAA oversight of foreign repair stations
Requires FAA safety technology deployment to prevent near-misses, 25-hour cockpit voice recorders, investigations of service difficulty reports
Sets refund standards for non-refundable tickets, protects vouchers for five years, prohibits fees for family seating, triples fines for airline consumer violations
Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed the bipartisan Senate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023. The legislation includes several provisions to strengthen safety standards and oversight at the FAA and responds to safety concerns from recent aviation accidents and near-misses.
"This bipartisan bill delivers improvements to aviation safety and consumer protections that Americans have been demanding,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Committee. “The bill will put more FAA safety inspectors on factory floors and more air traffic controllers in towers. It forces airlines to improve customer service—establishing mandatory refunds for flight disruptions and barring carriers from charging extra for families to sit together. Aviation is a key sector of the U.S. economy and supports millions of U.S. jobs. We need to make the right investments, hire the best-skilled workers and make our aviation safety system the gold standard of the world.”
“This bipartisan bill will help ensure the FAA can improve at its core mission of keeping the flying public safe,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Ranking Member of the Committee. “With the aviation industry facing serious challenges, this legislation charts a course to address many of them while also modernizing and transforming the FAA's operations. The legislation will also nurture innovation and nascent technology like air taxis, hypersonic planes, and unmanned aircraft. I want to thank my Republican and Democrat colleagues alike for their hard work on this bill. Today’s action moves us much closer to a final FAA reauthorization that makes the nation’s aviation system safer and more reliable.”
“The bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act is a win for aviation safety advocates and the flying public,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, Chair of the Aviation Safety Subcommittee. “As Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, I’m so proud that this bill includes many of my priorities—including my EVAC Act and a provision that upholds strong pilot certification standards—to help make flying safer and more accessible for all Americans. I’m grateful to Chair Cantwell, Ranking Member Cruz, Aviation Safety Subcommittee Ranking Member Moran for their leadership as well as my other colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working together to pass a strong, bipartisan bill through committee that helps modernize the FAA, boosts the aviation workforce, increases consumer protections and makes sure people with a disability are treated with the dignity and respect that all Americans deserve.”
“Our aviation system is strained, and advancing the FAA Reauthorization Act will help address challenges and ensure the FAA can carry out its core mission – the safety of the flying public,” said Senator Jerry Moran, Ranking Member of the Aviation Safety Subcommittee. “In addition to providing certainty for the FAA, this legislation bolsters the aviation workforce, addresses the FAA regulatory backlog, safeguards rural air travel, and accelerates new technology and innovation in the aviation industry. While there is more work to be done to ensure this legislation positions the FAA to handle the challenges we face today and in the future, I am pleased we have reached this critical point.”
The FAA Reauthorization strengthens aviation safety and the safety workforce. To address the air traffic controller shortage, the bill mandates that the FAA implement new staffing models to close the current gap of 3,000 controllers and requires the FAA to beef up staffing to close the 20 percent shortage of FAA safety inspectors responsible for certification and production oversight. The FAA will be required to raise the safety bar for foreign repair stations to meet U.S. standards and the bill requires more deployment of surface detection technology at more large- and medium-sized hub airports to prevent near-misses. Airplanes will be required to be equipped with 25-hour cockpit voice recorders so the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has critical data to aid investigation and the bill requires more robust reporting and FAA investigation of service difficulty reports. By also reauthorizing the NTSB, the legislation will increase its capacity to hire safety investigators.
The legislation strengthens consumer protections, setting the first-ever refund standards for passengers with non-refundable tickets when domestic flights are cancelled or delayed starting at three hours. Airline vouchers will be required to last at least five years so they don’t expire before customers can use them. Airlines will be prohibited from charging parents extra to be seated next to their children. Fines against airlines for aviation consumer protection violations will be tripled and a new stand-alone Office of Consumer Protection at the Department of Transportation (DOT) will give consumers a strong cop on the beat. Additionally, the bill enhances accessibility and protections for passengers with disabilities by improving seating accommodations and evacuation standards.
To grow the future of aviation, the legislation boosts funding for the Essential Air Service Program and doubles funding for Small Community Air Service program so that small community economies can connect, thrive and continue to make investments to modernize airport infrastructure. The bills also requires the FAA to create new standards for drones and electric air taxis so that the United States is leading the pack on new technology and creates a dedicated Office of Advanced Aviation Technology at DOT. The bill expands research on cutting-edge materials and composites that could make aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023
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 modernization 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.
Authorizes $720 million in appropriations for the National Transportation Safety Board for fiscal years 2024 through 2028.
Improving Aviation Safety
- Mandates 25-Hour Cockpit Voice Recording Technologies: The bill requires airplanes to be equipped with 25-hour cockpit recording devices to preserve critical data and inform future safety reforms consistent with National Transportation Safety Board recommendations.
- Stops Runway “Close Calls”: This bill requires the FAA to deploy the latest airport surface situational awareness technology that tracks runway aircraft and vehicle movements to prevent collisions. So far, technology like the Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE-X) has been deployed at 43 airports across the nation.
- 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.
- Raises International Safety Bar for Airline Operations: The bill codifies, for the first time, U.S. safety requirements for foreign airlines operating in the United States or code-sharing with U.S. airlines.
- Strengthens the FAA’s Oversight of Foreign Repair Stations: The 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.
- Builds FAA Global Aviation Safety Leadership: The bill renews the FAA’s engagement with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and bilateral partners to ensure the United States leads global innovation on aviation safety.
- Protects Against Cyber Security Threats to Aircraft: The bill helps protect aircraft electronics, including piloting control, against cyber security threats through new FAA requirements and review of the FAA’s current strategic framework for aviation security.
- Updates Air Tour and Helicopter Safety Requirements: Responding to NTSB recommendations for recent accidents, the bill requires stronger safety requirements for commercial air tours and helicopter operations through increased FAA oversight, new safety management systems, equipment upgrades and flight data monitoring.
- Tracks High-Altitude Balloons: Following recent U.S. airspace intrusions, the 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: The bill requires 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.
Growing and Supporting the Aviation Workforce
- Addresses Air Traffic Controller (ATC) Shortages: With a shortage of approximately 3,000 air traffic controllers nationwide, the bill requires the FAA to revise and implement improved staffing standards based on models developed with the labor workforce to close ongoing staffing gaps.
- Expands ATC Controller Training Capacity: The bill aims to bring more air traffic controllers into the workforce with a new FAA training academy and reduces the training backlog for FAA and Federal Contract Tower Program controllers.
- Fixes FAA Staffing Model to Hire More Safety Inspectors: The bill requires the FAA to update its aviation safety inspector model to provide a more accurate assessment of safety inspectors needed to perform safety oversight and requires the FAA to hire more manufacturing safety inspectors, engineers and technical specialists per year.
- Builds the Aviation Pipeline, Recruitment and Education: The 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.
- Boosts Student Loan Limits to Help Fund Flight Training: By incorporating the Flight Education Access Act, the bill increases the maximum borrowing limits for federal direct student loans to offset the costs of flight training at accredited flight schools required to obtain a commercial pilot license from certificate, 2-year and 4-year degree programs.
- Jumpstarts Hiring for the FAA Safety Workforce: The 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: The 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.
- Grows Veteran Pilot Pool: The bill establishes a competitive grant program at DOT to enable eligible flight training schools to recruit and train veterans, who are not already military aviators, to become commercial pilots and certified flight instructors. By covering costs beyond existing veteran education benefits, the measure will help grow the supply of qualified pilots to provide air service to rural communities.
- Supports Women in Aviation: Currently, less than 10% of licensed pilots are women and less than 3% are airline captains. The bill establishes a new Women in Aviation Advisory Committee at DOT, the Women in Aviation Advisory Board’s chief recommendation, to focus on bringing more women into aviation careers and the entire industry.
- Improves Flight Attendant Self-Defense Training: The 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: The legislation 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.
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. For delays, passengers will know for certain when a refund is due: a 3-hour delay for domestic flights and a 6-hour delay for international flights. Airlines will be required to display easy-to-find refund request buttons on their websites.
- Extends Airline Vouchers for Consumers: The bill requires airlines to accept vouchers and credits for at least five years.
- Strengthens the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection: The bill authorizes, for the first time, the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection to be led by a senate-confirmed assistant secretary to ensure that there is an active, politically accountable cop on the beat advocating for consumers.
- Requires Fee-Free Family Seating: The 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.
- Triples Civil Penalties for Violations: To hold airlines accountable, the bill doubles the DOT’s statutory civil penalty for consumer violations from $25,000 per violation to $75,000.
- Improves Communication with Consumers When Things Go Wrong: During Southwest’s system meltdown, the airline failed to communicate with passengers stranded at airports. Some airlines dropped their call centers altogether or started to charge fees to speak to live agents on the phone. The bill requires airlines to provide free, 24/7 access to customer service agents by phone, live chat or text message.
- Improves Transparency for Fees and Consumer Protections: Airlines will be required to display core ancillary fees 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 clearly display information about passenger rights related to refunds, delays and cancellations, and lost and delayed baggage.
- Airline Passenger Service Standards Comparison Dashboard: The bill requires DOT to permanently operate an online dashboard comparing 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, several airlines have changed their policies to guarantee that families can sit together for free. And DOT must create a dashboard that shows consumers the minimum seat sizes for each U.S. airline.
Improving Aircraft Accessibility
- Improves Evacuation Standards: The FAA’s current standards require that passengers—regardless of age or ability—be able to evacuate aircraft within 90 seconds. The bill requires the FAA to conduct a study on aircraft evacuation and an expert panel to evaluate gaps in current standards and procedures and make recommendations. The FAA must initiate a rulemaking on any recommendations the FAA Administrator deems appropriate.
- 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 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: The bill allows passengers with disabilities to request aircraft seating locations 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.
- Strengthens Protections for Passengers With Disabilities: The bill strengthens Air Carrier Access Act enforcement protections for passengers with disabilities. It ensures airplanes are designed to accommodate people with disabilities and airlines meet accessibility standards, including safe boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements and more.
Expanded Air Travel Service to More of America and Upgrading Airports
- Ensures Rural America’s Access to Air Travel: The bill strengthens the Essential Air Service (EAS) program and triples funding to ensure small and rural communities remain connected to the National Airspace System. Scheduled air service is a critical economic driver for smaller communities and the EAS program benefits approximately 60 communities in Alaska and 115 communities in the lower 48 states.
- Broadens Eligibility Requirement for EAS Airlines: The bill removes antiquated aircraft limitations to ensure that EAS communities receive as many bids as possible from a variety of airlines to ensure air service remains competitive.
- Protects Service to Small Airports: The 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 that could leave communities without air service.
- Brings New Air Service to Small Airports: The bill doubles funding for Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grants to $20 million per year to help small communities attract new air service to their small airports.
- Rebuilds Airports, Terminals and Runways: The bill boosts Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding over the next five years from $3.35 billion to $4.0 billion to continue modernizing airport infrastructure as outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
- Supports Small Airports with Modern Infrastructure and Technology: The bill ensures small airports are not left behind and the needs of small communities and rural airports are met through stable AIP funding and reduced local share requirements.
- Disposes of Harmful Airport Firefighting Chemicals: The bill establishes a new grant program to help airports dispose of PFAS, harmful forever chemicals used in firefighting foam, and replace them with safer solutions for firefighters.
- Improves Airport Accessibility: The bill creates a new FAA pilot program to award grants to airports to upgrade the accessibility of commercial service airports for people with disabilities.
Modernizing the National Airspace System and Leading Global Aviation Innovation
- Modernizes FAA Systems: The 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: The 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: The 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: The 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. The bill also gives the FAA enforcement authority to prohibit unauthorized or unsafe use of UAS.
- Extends the BEYOND program: Launched in 2020, the BEYOND program continues the progress made under the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program and centers around developing standards, engaging communities and informing policies to facilitate the safe deployment and operation of drones. The bill continues the program for five years.
- Supports Avenues to Safety Certification of Air Taxis: The bill supports pathways and additional certainty needed for the safety certification of advanced air mobility powered-lift aircraft, or “air taxis,” capable of vertical take-off and landing.
Continuing Research and Development for Innovative Aviation Technologies
- Expands Research at the FAA’s Joint Centers of Excellence for Advanced Materials: The bill expands the Joint Centers of Excellence for Advanced Materials, co-led 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: The bill creates a new research program to ensure continued modernization of the FAA’s aviation information systems.
- Supports Innovative Aircraft Jet Fuels Research: The 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: The 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.
The Committee held eight aviation hearings to inform the bill’s drafting, including: Integrating new entrants into the National Airspace System on September 28, 2022, strengthening airline operations and consumer protections following the Southwest and holiday cancellations on February 9, 2023, modernizing the FAA’s NOTAM system following failures on February 15, 2023, overseeing aviation safety and the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act on March 8, 2023, strengthening the aviation workforce on March 16, 2023, enhancing consumer protections and small airport connectivity on March 23, 2023 and advancing the next generation aviation technologies on March 29, 2023, and addressing close calls to improve aviation safety on November 9, 2023.