WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus and certified flight instructor with more than 10,000 flight hours, today praised final passage of the House-Senate Conference Report for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 658). After twenty-three extensions that at times furloughed FAA employees in Oklahoma and around the nation, this will be the first FAA reauthorization since 2003. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the conference report last Friday by a 248-169 vote. Today’s 75-20 Senate vote moves the bill to President Obama’s desk.
The bill includes important measures for both Oklahoma and the nation. Included in the bill is a measure that will integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national aerospace system by September 30, 2015. An Inhofe amendment to the legislation would make model aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds exempt from this program. Opening air space for UAS will enhance public safety by allowing law enforcement, fire and emergency responders to use the vehicles. Oklahoma has a very active UAS industry, and on January 20, 2012, Inhofe led the Oklahoma congressional delegation in urging the federal agencies to select the state as a national UAS Test Range.
“Oklahoma’s aerospace industry is an important aspect to our economy, and our state is an industry leader in UAS research and development,” said Inhofe. “Congress directing our nation’s air space to be opened to UAS is excellent news. I will continue to work with our delegation to encourage the FAA, NASA, and the Defense Department to select Oklahoma as national UAS Test Range.”
Inhofe continued, “This bill provides important funding in the years ahead to modernize our nation’s aviation sector, improve our nation’s radar system, and make commercial aviation improvements. This long overdue legislation will enhance our nation’s aviation system, and provides an important roadmap in the years ahead for the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and our airports.”
The bill authorizes $15.9 billion annually for FAA programs through fiscal year 2015, a compromise level between the House and Senate. The bill provides funding for NextGen, the FAA’s effort to modernize the national air system, and $13.4 billion over four years for the Airport Improvement Program, which provides grants for the planning and development of public airports.