WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) today praised final passage of H.R. 636, the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which passed the Senate by a vote of 89 to 4 and now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
“The FAA extension provides the aviation community with necessary stability over the next year and sets into motion important reforms to improve safety and security for air travelers,” said Inhofe. “Included in this bill are provisions that support the general aviation community as well as job creators in Oklahoma. One of those provisions is language Sen. Booker and I have been working on this year to allow critical infrastructure operators to use drones to support their needs for meeting existing regulations or in response to natural disasters. This provision will make way for innovative technology to be used with large-scale infrastructure – such as bridges or pipelines – so that businesses can safely and efficiently provide services to their consumers.
“In this bill is also third class medical reform, the foundation to my Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which will cut burdensome red tape and encourage pilots to disclose and treat medical conditions that could impact their ability to fly. Chairman Thune has been working closely with me in the Senate to ensure its success, and I thank Chairman Shuster for working with us to include it in the FAA extension. Shuster is a friend of the general aviation community, and we continue to enjoy a strong and strengthening working relationship on the countless priorities we share. I am encouraged by his ambitious proposal to fix the air traffic control system, which stands to benefit all of aviation, and this 14-month FAA extension will allow time for his proposal to continue to work its way through Congress. As it stands, the current system is plagued by bureaucratic inefficiencies and funding shortfalls. His proposal addresses these deficiencies, and I will continue to work with him to ensure that the ongoing effort is done in a way that benefits and protects the general aviation community for generations to come so that together we can accomplish this transformational reform.”
Provisions championed by Inhofe in the FAA extension and that will have an impact on Oklahoma are as follows:
Third class medical reform
Section 2307 of the bill is language from S.571, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 that Inhofe sponsored and that passed the Senate on Dec. 15. S.571, and particularly the third class medical reform provision, has the strong support of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).
“Medical reforms are vital to the future of general aviation, and we are grateful to Sen. Inhofe for his exceptional leadership in making them a reality,” said Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “He understands how important this is to our community and our industry, and he has doggedly pursued medical reforms, keeping the issue front and center and winning widespread bipartisan support. Sen. Inhofe has been a true friend to general aviation, not only on medical reform but on dozens of other issues affecting this uniquely American industry and the 1.1 million jobs it supports.”
“Sen. Inhofe has been a true champion of general aviation throughout this entire process,” said Jack J. Pelton, CEO/chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association. “His dedication to success and knowledge of the congressional process made an enormous difference every step of the way, including passage of this language three times by the Senate. As a pilot and EAA member, he well understood the necessity of this legislation to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens and expense to the general aviation community while maintaining the high standards of safety.”
“We commend Senator Inhofe for his tireless and effective work to ensure passage of third-class medical reform for pilots of small aircraft,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association. “There has been no greater champion for this cause in the Senate."
“A key element of moving third class medical reform to the President’s desk was Senator Inhofe’s resolve to keep the issue before the Congress until it was accomplished,” said Tom Hendricks, president and CEO of the National Air Transportation Association. “NATA looks forward to working with the Senator in 2017 to enact a multi-year FAA bill that represents consensus work of the House, Senate and aviation stakeholders including provisions to further assist general aviation pilots and aviation businesses.”
“NASAO commends Senator Inhofe for his tireless work to gain passage of this vital reform,” said Greg Principato, president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials. “This common sense medical reform will help stem the decline of the general aviation pilot population by keeping pilots in the air—without degrading safety. This legislation will not only benefit the pilots, but also the vast network of smaller general aviation airports that they support.”
“Thanks to Sen. Inhofe's outstanding efforts on behalf of our nation’s professional pilots, the FAA extension will include the third-class medical reform provisions of the Pilots Bill of Rights 2,” said Capt. Dan Carey, president of the Allied Pilots Association. “Time and again, Sen. Inhofe has shown himself to be an effective pilots' advocate, and for that we are grateful.”
“By spearheading third class medical reform, Senator Inhofe has reaffirmed a tireless commitment to defending and enhancing the interests of professional and general aviation pilots,” said Capt. Coley George, industry affairs committee chair of NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots. “On behalf of the NJASAP Membership, it is my privilege to recognize and to express our gratitude for his enduring commitment to addressing the concerns of all pilots from hobbyist to professional cockpit crewmember.”
“The pilots of Southwest Airlines are pleased that changes to the third class medical were included in the new FAA Reauthorization bill,” said Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association. “This encourages growth of the U.S. general aviation community and allows the FAA to focus its resources on maintaining its world-class oversight of the commercial aviation industry. Our thanks go out to Sen. Inhofe’s understanding of the aviation industry and his work to improve the lives of aviators nationwide.”
Critical Infrastructure Operators
On April 11, the Senate adopted Inhofe-Booker Amendment #3492 to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. This amendment would allow for drone use by critical infrastructure operators to assist with compliance of existing federal regulations and to respond to natural disasters. Section 2210 of H.R. 636 includes language from this amendment championed by Inhofe, which will support the operations of oil and gas, pipeline, and utility companies.
“We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Inhofe on this important safety issue,” said Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. “The natural gas pipeline industry has a primary focus on safety, and small unmanned aircraft provide a new technology for improving the safety of our systems. These tools can be used for pipeline right of way inspections, surveys and emergency response. The end result is improved public safety nationwide.”
“The number one goal of the oil and natural gas industry is zero incidents, and unmanned aerial system (UAS) technologies provide enormous potential to improve the safe operation of all oil and natural gas infrastructure through the ability to safely conduct preventative inspections and response activities,” said Robin Rorick, group director of Midstream and Industry Operations at the American Petroleum Institute. “We applaud the passage of the FAA Extension and Senator Inhofe, in particular, for his visionary provision in the legislation that would allow UAS utilization for oil and gas facilities, refineries and pipeline inspection and response activities.”
“We greatly appreciate the inclusion of Senator Inhofe’s amendment prioritizing drone use for energy and electric power reliability,” said Sue Kelly, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association. “Reliable power is critical to national security, life safety, economic health and the safe operation of the national airspace. The use of new technologies like drones will help electric utilities conduct efficient system inspections and restore power faster when there are outages.”
“Drones are an incredible asset to our industries and the responsible use of them by owners and operators of critical infrastructure should not be restricted,” said Chet Thompson, president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. “Drone technology is advancing rapidly and has an important role in our future as long as it is used appropriately. Today’s decision by Congress to include language in the FAA Reauthorization bill recognizes the important role drones play in improving the safety and reliability at our refining and petrochemical facilities”
“America's electric cooperatives appreciate Chairman Inhofe's leadership in passing legislation to streamline the permitting process for UAVs. This legislation will enable cooperatives to reduce risk for their employees, shorten outage times and save money for their member-owners,” said Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor, NRECA.
“Pipeline operators are looking forward to being able to use drones to help keep pipelines safe and protect our communities,” said Andy Black, president and CEO of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. “We appreciate the leadership of Senator Inhofe and all of the members who supported expanding tools for energy transportation and safety.”
“EEI thanks Senators Inhofe and Booker for their leadership in successfully championing a provision in the FAA reauthorization legislation to help the electric power industry’s efforts to build and maintain a smarter, more resilient grid to deliver safe and reliable energy to our customers,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute. “With this legislation, Congress has made clear its priorities for the FAA, specifically highlighting the need for owners and operators of critical infrastructure to operate unmanned aircraft beyond visual line of sight. In accordance with the FAA’s recently-released rule for small commercial UAS, EEI, our member companies, and our technology partners will continue to work with the FAA to demonstrate safe UAS usage and to develop guidelines that will allow companies to improve routine maintenance of our energy infrastructure and to help restore service to our customers more quickly following natural disasters.”
Reforms FAA’s ATC hiring process
The FAA extension includes a provision to reform the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) hiring process, ensuring that knowledge-based testing is used to identify qualified applicants. The provision helps to promote the Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program, developed in partnership with the FAA and 36 institutions, to include the University of Oklahoma and Tulsa Community College.
“On behalf of University of Oklahoma Outreach and our Department of Aviation, we want to thank Senator Inhofe for his assistance with the FAA extension bill and new language in favor of the value of FAA Air Traffic-Collegiate Initiative Training (AT-CTI) programs such as our OU program,” said James P. Pappas, Ph.D, vice president for University of Oklahoma Outreach & Dean of the College of Liberal Studies. “Having air traffic controllers who are collegiately trained provides a cadre of highly qualified candidates who possess the knowledge and leadership skills to move into supervisory and management roles in the air traffic system, airport management, and other aviation industry positions. By emphasizing applicants who have completed collegiate education with career specific ATC training, we ensure the highest level of safety for our citizens traveling within the National Airspace System.”
Contract Weather Observers
H.R. 636 prevents FAA from ending Contract Weather Observers at certain airports, including Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport, until October 2017. These observers are necessary to provide accurate and timely weather forecasts, which is of particular importance in Oklahoma where the weather changes quickly. The amendment also directs a study be done to determine the safety risks of ending these positions. This language is identical to amendment #3508, cosponsored by Inhofe and adopted to the FAA Reauthorization that passed the Senate on April 19.
“I want to thank Senator Inhofe's support of FAA Reauthorization including the provision to retain Contract Weather Observers,” said Mark Kranenburg, director of Will Rogers World Airport. “Contract Weather Observers enhance the margin of safety by providing key ceiling and visibility information to air traffic controllers and pilots during inclement weather conditions.”