Congress clears major aviation policy bill, after months of delays

May 17, 2024

The House voted on Wednesday, May 15, to send the biggest aviation bill in five years to President Joe Biden’s desk, reports Politico.

The bill, H.R. 3935, cleared on a 387-26 vote, would inject $105 billion into the Federal Aviation Administration over five years and guide policy for everything from drones and air taxis, to technology intended to help planes avoid runway collisions.

It will also add five long-haul, round-trip flights a day to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, despite objections from D.C.-area lawmakers.

However, it contains no significant provisions to clamp down on oversight of Boeing, whose quality control problems have spiraled since a door panel blew off mid-air on one of its 737 MAX 9 jets in January.

The House vote followed Senate passage last week—capping off months of deliberations that forced four short-term extensions before Congress came to a deal.

Lawmakers who oversee transportation policy hailed the bill. During a floor speech on Wednesday, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, Representative Sam Graves (R-Missouri), said the bill “is critical to ensuring America remains the global leader in aviation”—calling it “vital to our economy to millions of American jobs, and to the millions of passengers that depend on our national aviation system and airspace system every single day.”

 The legislation would order changes to the way air traffic control facilities are staffed, in an effort to halt decades-long staffing shortages that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those shortages, along with stress and fatigue, have been implicated in some recent near-collisions on runways nationwide.

It also would mandate technology at more airports intended to help pilots, air traffic controllers, and other workers keep better track of ground equipment and other planes on increasingly busy runways and taxiways. Some of the recent rash of near-misses have involved ground equipment that has fouled runways or otherwise been in places pilots were not expecting.

It also would add five round-trip long-haul flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a contentious provision that forced a last-minute scuffle in the Senate. The fight, which has ranged over the last several months, has pitted lawmakers mostly from the West and South against lawmakers from Virginia and Maryland who opposed the flights, along with competing airlines that embraced one side or the other.

That fight over adding flights at Congress’ favorite airport delayed passage in the Senate long enough that Congress enacted a fourth stopgap last week that will run through May 17, giving the House an extra week to act just in case.

Research contact: @politico