WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday evening about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act (H.R. 636), which includes the bipartisan Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 sponsored by Inhofe, and also spoke on amendment #3492 that he sponsored with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), which would ensure operators of critical infrastructure are able to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to assist with compliance of federal regulations and to respond to natural disasters.
As prepared for delivery:
I rise today to highlight some of the important provisions in the legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.
I want to thank Senators Thune and Nelson, and their staff, for their work on this important legislation.
On the whole, this is a comprehensive bill with many important provisions. In particular, I want to talk about those that will reform FAA’s current medical certification process for General Aviation pilots, strengthen cost-effective aviation programs like the federal contract tower program and remove government red tape that is a stranglehold on innovation and delays the adoption of new safety technologies in the aviation sector.
I will also highlight one amendment I am offering for consideration to this bill. It would allow critical infrastructure owners and operators to use unmanned aircraft systems in certain circumstances.
Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2
I am particularly pleased to note that this bill includes my bipartisan Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent in December last year.
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 is strongly supported by the pilots unions and the general aviation community – including the membership of AOPA and EAA, who have worked with me to advance this legislation.
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 addresses the concerns pilots brought to my attention first hand at events like Airventure each year held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin since the original Pilot’s Bill of Rights was signed into law in 2012.
FAA’s current medical certification process is bureaucratic, burdensome and discourages pilots from disclosing and treating medical conditions that could impact their ability to fly.
This legislation reforms the medical certification process for general aviation pilots in a way that will increase pilots’ knowledge of risk while demanding treatment of identified conditions.
The reforms expand the existing exemption for light sport pilots to include more qualified, trained pilots as long as they complete three requirements.
First, pilots must complete an online medical education course; second, pilots must maintain verification that they have been to a doctor at least once every four years and certify that they are receiving the care they need as directed by their physician to treat any medical condition that warrants treatment; and third, pilots must complete one comprehensive medical review by the FAA.
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 increases due process protections established for pilots in the original Pilot’s Bill of Rights, and increases transparency for airman subject to investigation or enforcement action, ensuring FAA treats them in a fair and equitable manner.
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 also expedites updates to the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) Improvement Program required in the original Pilot’s Bill of Rights and directs the FAA to include the effective duration of temporary flight restrictions in NOTAMs, ensuring the most relevant and important information reaches the pilot prior to a flight taking place.
And, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 ensures pilots have accessibility to flight data, such as air traffic communication tapes and radar information produced by contract towers, and flight service stations and controller training programs, so pilots have access to this information to defend themselves during an enforcement action proceeding.
The federal Contract Tower Program serves a vital role in connecting smaller airports and rural communities with the National Aviation System.
In 2013, the Obama Administration targeted our nation’s air traffic control towers as an unnecessary mechanism to make the public feel the pain of non-defense budget cuts.
Since then, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle ensure contract towers are fully supported.
Restricting or reducing the operations of contract towers would have a substantial, negative impact on general aviation safety, the efficiency of large commercial airports, emergency medical operations, law enforcement, agriculture activities and businesses throughout the United States.
In addition, many contract tower airports are located near or adjacent to military bases and manage a substantial number of military-related and national security operations, directly supporting the readiness and training of military units.
The FAA Bill maintains the contract tower cost-share program, which allows local communities to share in the costs of maintaining their airport’s contract tower.
This bill also removes government red tape requiring contract towers to submit annual cost/benefit reports to FAA. Moving forward, these reports would be tied to specific air traffic levels, ensuring communities invest resources in their control tower and their airport, instead of filling out unnecessary paperwork.
Oklahoma’s aerospace industry, a vital and growing component of the State’s economy, is responsible for billions of dollars of economic output and employing thousands of people.
The aerospace industry in Oklahoma includes commercial, military and general aviation manufacturing, testing, and maintenance activities, as well as a vibrant and cutting-edge culture of research and development.
With this in mind, I applaud this bill’s inclusion of reforms to FAA’s process for certifying general aviation aircraft and aviation products such as engines and avionics—removing government red tape that that is a stranglehold on innovation and delays the adoption of new safety technologies in the aviation sector.
This bill also ensures that FAA maintains strong engagement with industry stakeholders so FAA’s safety oversight and certification processes includes performance-based objectives and tracks performance-based metrics.
This is key to eliminating bureaucratic delays and increase accountability between FAA and the aviation community for type certificate resolution or the installation of safety enhancing technology on small general aviation aircraft.
UAVs for Critical Infrastructure
I want to highlight an amendment I am offering to the FAA Reauthorization Bill with Senator Booker that would direct FAA to establish rules to allow critical infrastructure owners and operators to use unmanned aircraft systems to carry out federally mandated patrols and to perform emergency response and preparation activities.
By critical infrastructure, this amendment would apply to energy infrastructure, such as oil and gas and renewable electric energy, it would apply to power utilities and telecommunications networks, and it would apply to roads and bridges and water supply system operators.
To be clear, my amendment establish a pathway for critical infrastructure operators to use the airspace under FAA guidelines.
This amendment does not provide a blank check for industry to operate unmanned aircraft in our national airspace, but rather directs FAA to focus their efforts on creating a process for a particular group that has a specific and articulable need.
Today, critical infrastructure owners and operators are required to comply with significant requirements to monitor facilities and assets, which can stretch thousands of miles, and traverse rural and hard to access areas.
Existing federal safety regulations require periodic patrolling of the rights of way of critical infrastructure such as pipelines or transmission lines to check for encroachment, unauthorized excavation, evidence of leaks, or any other conditions that might jeopardize the safety of the pipeline or transmission line.
Currently, federal regulations allow periodic patrols to be conducted on foot, in vehicles, or with manned aircraft
This amendment would ensure unmanned aircraft can be used as well.
This is of particular importance because unmanned aircraft can be quickly deployed to assess dangerous situations as part of a coordinated response to provide immediate feedback and situational awareness and direct resources to locations of highest danger.
The use of unmanned aircraft would provide consistent and long-term on-scene information gathering capability in spite of weather or other dangers harmful to responding personnel, reduce the threat to response personnel in emergency situations.
This amendment is supported by a wide array of stakeholders including the Small UAV Coalition, National Rural Electric Cooperatives, the American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute, CTIA - The Wireless Association, the American Wind Energy Association, the American Gas Association, the American Public Gas Association, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Petroleum Institute, the Association of Oil Pipelines, the American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and 3D Robotics.
Congress should provide direction to FAA to set up a process for critical infrastructure operators to be able to safety operate unmanned aerial vehicles where there is clear and articulable need, and my amendment will do that.
In conclusion, I want to again thank Senator Thune for his leadership, and Senator Nelson too, in bringing this bill to the floor. I look forward to a robust amendment process and further consideration of this bill on the Senate floor.