The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation in a 95-3 vote with strong bipartisan support. The bill, which reauthorizes FAA programs through fiscal year 2017, has been moved back over to the House of Representatives, where similar efforts have stalled.
The legislation includes provisions to beef up airport security by improving vetting of airport security workers and tightening security in areas outside of security screening. The measure also addresses cybersecurity threats to aircraft and ground systems, certification of new safety systems for private planes, airline safety improvements, and the safe integration of drones into national airspace.
"We’ve given the House a good bi-partisan blueprint to follow and one that they ought to pass easily. Adding controversial measures could put the bill in jeopardy and result in a big loss for consumers and for the safety of the flying public," said Florida Senator Bill Nelson.
Senator Tom Carper, top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, applauded the Senate for doing its part to ensure the FAA is able to continue to carry out its mission to keep travelers and cargo safe and on the move in US skies.
In particular, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, Carper emphasized the importance of addressing security vulnerabilities here in the United States to prevent similar attacks from occurring on American soil.
“Recent international tragedies have reminded Americans that we must be vigilant about security in our country’s points of travel,” Carper stated. “I’m pleased that this bill includes important and commonsense security measures that will deter bad actors and give law enforcement officials and federal agencies more tools they can use to keep Americans safe.”
Carper continued, “Bipartisan amendments included in the final package will bolster security in public places and give law enforcement the resources and training necessary to protect non-secure areas in places like airports and train stations. The final bill also includes provisions that address potential insider threats by ensuring that airport workers with access to sensitive areas are properly vetted.”
Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), praised the passage of the FAA reauthorization measure by the Senate as a critical milestone for accelerating the civil and commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
The bill addresses drone safety and privacy issues, and recommends a pilot program to test technologies that could assist in preventing drones from getting too close to airports.
However, Wynne noted that while Congress addresses reauthorization, it is critical that the FAA use all available means to finalize the small UAS rule immediately. Wynne said, “Once this happens, we will have an established regulatory framework for UAS that will allow for more widespread commercial use of the technology.”
The FAA’s slow pace in finalizing UAS regulations has frequently come under fire for holding back the commercial drone industry. An economic impact study by AUVSI found the industry is projected to create more than 100,000 jobs and provide more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following UAS integration into the national airspace.
Homeland Security Today previously reported that one of the most significant challenges to integration of UAS into national airspace is the potential that one could hit objects, such as a passenger plane. Just this past weekend, a drone struck a British Airways plane landing at London’s Heathrow International Airport. This is just one out of many similar incidents in recent years.
Despite these concerns, there has been disagreement over federal government takeover of drone regulation. A survey released by smart-cities research and advocacy organization Smart Government, discovered opposition by some US cities and local government groups to a provision in the FAA Reauthorization Act that would make the FAA the sole regulator over drones.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would enable states to set their own standards, but her amendment was not included in the legislation that passed. “The federal government simply cannot set commonsense rules for every city, county, park or school in the country,” Feinstein said.
Over two-thirds of those polled said state and local governments should be responsible for developing drone rules because the federal government does not know the particular concerns of their community well enough.
“Our poll results show that US residents want their Mayors, City Councils, and State Legislators to have a say in whether a drone can fly through their back yards, over local parks, schools and pools,” said Jim Williams of Public Policy Polling. “For example, Americans are open to new innovations such as package delivery by drones, but overwhelmingly support their local and state leaders having a say in when and where drones can deliver these packages in their local communities.”
As the commercial drone industry begins to take off, the United States will likely continue to grapple with the issue of whether federal regulation preempts state and local laws.