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ARSA Pushes FAA Bill Into Law

On May 7, ARSA delivered a letter to House and Senate leadership strongly supporting the FAA reauthorization bill unveiled April 29.

“At a time when the national airspace system (NAS) and the FAA are under intense scrutiny, [House and Senate committee leaders] have collectively crafted a forward-looking piece of legislation that promises to enhance safety by improving the agency’s effectiveness, professionalism, transparency, and efficiency,” the letter said. “The legislation makes significant investments in the aviation workforce that will help Americans from all backgrounds pursue fulfilling careers and ensure the industry and agency have the professional talent they need to be successful. The bill also makes investments to address current infrastructure needs and ensure the NAS has the physical capacity to support future growth.”

On May 9, the Senate voted 88-4 to pass the legislation and send it back to the House of Representatives for final consideration. On May 15, the House voted 387-26 to passed the bill and it was almost immediately signed into law by President Biden. Stay tuned for further analysis from the association. For a thorough review of the maintenance industry’s priorities included in the bill and the ARSA’s efforts to craft effective reauthorization law, review the update below.

To review the letter, click here.

To see the bill’s page on congress.gov, click here.


FAA Bill on Final Approach

April 30, 2024

There’s a lot of love in the FAA reauthorization bill unveiled April 29. House and Senate negotiators have worked for months to craft a compromise based on legislation passed last year by the House of Representatives and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The policy and budget blueprint funds the agency through the end of fiscal year 2028 and contains many provisions recommended by ARSA to address FAA oversight problems and industry workforce needs. Unfortunately, the bill also includes one provision ARSA opposes that will impact foreign FAA certificated repair stations and the part 121 operators that use them.

A quick review of ARSA’s initial highlights:

Access to Maintenance Data

For the first time in political memory, Congress has tackled access to instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA).  Sec. 349 of the bill directs the agency to convene an ICA Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to clarify maintenance manual access rules and policies. The FAA initiated the ARC earlier this year in response to an ARSA-led petition filed in 2021 and because congressional action in this area was inevitable. The inclusion of ICA is a testament to the hard work by the association and its members to find a solution to a problem that has plagued the maintenance industry for decades. The ARC by itself doesn’t solve the problem of manual access but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Workforce

The FAA bill’s workforce title doubles down on initiatives in the 2019 FAA reauthorization and represents another big win for the maintenance industry. ARSA economic research partner Oliver Wyman projects a shortage of nearly 40,000 technicians in the United States by 2028.

Sec. 440 reauthorizes, improves, and increases funding for the aviation workforce grant programs created at ARSA’s suggestion. The existing mechanic and pilot workforce programs will be quadrupled to $20 million per year.  Congress is creating a new grant program (also $20 million per year) to expand the aviation manufacturing workforce.  The maximum grant award will be increased from $500,000 to $1 million in any one calendar year for all three programs and eligibility will be expanded to include 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.  The grant programs will henceforth be known collectively as the Cooperative Aviation Recruitment, Enrichment, and Employment Readiness Program or CAREER Program. Finally, the bill improves reporting about grant awards to help measure the program’s success and eventually shifts management of the program from the FAA to DOT.

Sec. 424, another provision sought by ARSA and its allies, addresses career transition for technicians leaving the military and directs FAA to streamline the process by which they can earn part 65 mechanic certificates.  The provision directs a rulemaking to create a military mechanic written competency test and, as necessary, develop a new Airman Certification Standard. It also creates an interagency working group to advise the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Defense on the requirements to become a civilian technician to further facilitate career transitions.

Sec. 402 addresses gaps in data about the industry workforce by requiring the FAA to publish civil airmen statistics more regularly and to report the gender of certificate holders.

Sec. 403 makes the Women in Aviation Advisory Committee permanent and names it in honor of African American aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman. 

Sec. 405 directs an FAA working group to evaluate allowing high school students to take the general knowledge portion of the mechanic exam. This provision was requested by ARSA and its allies in response to more high schools offering maintenance curriculum. Early testing would make it more likely that a graduate stays in the industry.

Sec. 414, a related provision, directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess high school maintenance programs and identify barriers to early testing.

Sec. 441 directs the Secretary of Transportation to develop a national strategic plan for the aviation workforce and establishes a CAREER Council of industry experts to advise DOT on workforce issues in general and the CAREER grant program in particular.

Improving Regulations and Oversight

Several provisions address concerns about FAA’s development and enforcement of regulations and guidance:

Section 821 requires the DOT Inspector General (IG) to audit the Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification Services on the consistency of policy and regulatory interpretation and the application of policies, orders, and guidance.  Three specifically directed audits relate to repair station oversight, supplemental type certificates, and technical standard orders.  The DOT must report to Congress on these three audits and the bill requires the FAA to consider the reports suggested best practices.

Sec. 822 requires the FAA to ensure that policies, orders, and guidance are applied equally and consistently and not altered without consultation. It also requires better documentation of findings and decisions throughout a project to avoid disruptions when personnel change.

Sec. 202 creates the position of Assistant Administrator for Rulemaking and Regulatory Improvement. The position will be responsible for, among other things, developing and managing FAA’s regulatory agenda, reviewing regulations on an ongoing basis to enhance safety and reduce burdens, and improving accountability in responding to petitions for rulemaking and exemptions.

Sec. 205 creates a review team (including outside experts) to improve the process by which regulations and guidance are developed.  It also tasks the DOT Inspector General (IG) with reviewing the FAA’s processes and recommending improvements.

Sec. 209 expresses the sense of Congress (i.e., it’s not legally binding) that the agency should improve stakeholder engagement during the rulemaking process.

Sec. 805 seeks to end FAA’s practice of leaving letters of investigation (LOI) unresolved.  It requires a final determination on an investigation to be made within two years of issuance of the LOI and that the investigation be closed baring a determination by the administrator or deputy administrator.

Foreign Repair Stations

Sec. 302 directs the FAA to enhance oversight of foreign repair stations:

  • The FAA must inspect each foreign repair station annually without advanced notice to the facility being inspected. Those inspections must be conducted in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations under international agreements and the laws of the country in which the repair station is located.
  • Part 121 air carriers will be required to report annually to the FAA where and when heavy maintenance is performed outside the United States, what work was performed, failures, malfunctions, or defects resulting from the work, and certificate number of individuals approving the product for return to service following work at the foreign location.
  • The FAA may not certificate a new repair station in a country that the FAA has classified as Category 2 via its International Aviation Safety Assessment Program (the prohibition does not apply to certificate renewals).
  • Part 121 air carriers are also prohibited from entering new heavy maintenance contracts with repair stations in CAT 2 countries.
  • Foreign repair station supervisory personnel and personnel authorized to approve article for return to service will be required to hold part 65 mechanic or repairman certificates or be certified under a licensing regime deemed equivalent by the FAA.
  • Persons responsible for approving an article for return to service or directly in charge of heavy maintenance work for a part 121 air carrier at a foreign repair station must be available for consultation while the work is being performed.
  • Finally, the section directs the FAA to complete rulemakings foreign repair station drug and alcohol testing and security background check rulemakings.

ARSA is disappointed Congress chose to include Sec. 302, which is a solution in search of a problem. The provision was promoted by labor organizations representing airline mechanics based on false safety arguments to make it more difficult for part 121 carriers to use foreign repair stations. ARSA and its allies were able to negotiate significant changes to the original text to limit negative impact and disruption.

Anything Else?

Sec. 409 directs a review of whether part 121 air carriers and part 145 repair stations have in place “uniform policies and uniform offerings that ensure pregnant employees can perform required duties safely.” The section requires the FAA to brief Congress on the results of the review within two years.

Cleared for Landing?

We expect the bill to receive a full Senate vote in the coming days.  It will then go to the House for final approval before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.  The clock is ticking: The bill must be signed by May 10 when the current short-term FAA authorization expires.

As the reauthorization process draws to a successful conclusion, ARSA members are encouraged to contact Congress to support final passage of the bill. ARSA’s grassroots action site – sponsored by Aircraft Electric Motors – makes it easy.  Just click here.

To review the complete bill text, click here.

For a section-by-section summary of the bill prepared by committee staff, click here.

Previous updates on this reauthorization cycle...

10/2/23 - U.S. Government Funding, FAA Authorization Extended

October 2, 2023

On Sept. 30, the U.S. Congress passed a stopgap measure averting a federal government shutdown and extending the authorization of the FAA. The agency may operate under this extended authority until Dec. 31, though overall continuing resolution funding will expire on Nov. 17.

“Passage of this short-term measure was the right thing to do,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said. “This will ensure continuity at the FAA and avoid pointless disruptions for the traveling public. But aviation workers and the traveling public deserve an FAA reauthorization bill that will give the agency the steady authority and the tools and resources necessary to be the global leader in aviation safety.”

Providing that authority is a key priority for ARSA and its members. In July, ARSA Executive Vice President Christian Klein praised the “Securing Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act” (H.R. 3935). The bill passed the House of Representatives – Sen. Cantwell’s chamber has yet to make substantive progress on its own legislation – and would mandate a series of personnel, training, management, and oversight improvements the association and its allies have long called for to improve the FAA (see below).

In a Sept. 13 letter, ARSA joined 27 joined 27 organizations including ally trade associations, labor unions, and business advocates in urging Congress to provide “permanent leadership and clear direction” for the American aviation safety regulator. Neither the continuing resolution or extension of FAA authority provides for such leadership or direction, but prevents further severe short term disruption for the aviation community; shutdown threats have already caused upheavals as industry and government personnel diverted resources to planning for work stoppages.

7/21/23 - ARSA-Supported FAA Bill Passes House

July 21, 2023

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the chamber’s bill to reauthorize the FAA: the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935).

In a letter to House leadership on July 14, ARSA Executive Vice President Christian Klein praised the bill and offered the association’s strong support for its passage. Klein noted H.R. 3935 would continue to build on key priorities for the maintenance community and address challenges facing both the FAA and the industry it regulates. As outlined in the letter, if passed into law the bill would:

  • Improve FAA personnel training, professionalism, and management.
  • Enhance regulatory oversight transparency and consistency.
  • Empower the agency to adjust more rapidly to changing circumstances.
  • Strengthen the agency’s hand in its relationships with other global aviation authorities.
  • Expand efforts already underway to attract a new generation of the technicians to maintain the airworthiness of America’s fleet.

“ARSA is also particularly grateful that the bill addresses the longest standing challenge facing the U.S. maintenance sector: access to Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (i.e., maintenance data),” the letter said.

Despite its general enthusiasm for the bill, ARSA remains on guard against language targeting foreign repair stations. That language has been greatly improved since it was first introduced as a standalone bill by then-T&I Chairman Pete DeFazio in 2019. That previous effort, common to the Oregon Democrat whose policies were generally antagonistic to repair stations, would have imposed considerable burdens on the industry and threatened to punish maintenance providers for FAA inaction on key rulemakings. The provision included in the House bill is much less disruptive, given the maintenance industry’s safety record and the scrutiny foreign repair stations already receive from the FAA, airline customers, and third-party auditors. ARSA continues to believe that the foreign repair station language is a solution in search of a problem.

The legislation had been unanimously approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure committee on June 14. It now heads to the Senate, which is considering its own FAA reauthorization bill.

To read the bill, click here.

To read ARSA’s letter in support of the bill, click here.

To read about the Senate’s effort to reauthorize the FAA, click here.

6/12/23 - FAA Reauthorization Bill Unveiled in House

June 12, 2023

On June 9, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure released its draft FAA reauthorization bill. The committee has scheduled a markup session for June 13.

ARSA is still analyzing the 700+ page bill, but on first review it includes many of the association’s regulatory and workforce reauthorization recommendations. Among other things, the bill:

  • Requires the FAA administrator to task the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee with identifying ways to improve access to instructions for continued airworthiness (the first time in two decades Congress has addressed the ICA issue).
  • Directs the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to audit the Flight Standards and Certification Services regarding the consistency and application of guidance and regulations.
  • Directs the FAA administrator to ensure consistency in oversight through audits, more frequent updates to guidance and rules, and better documentation of findings and decisions.
  • Improves transparency relating to the agency’s handling of petitions for rulemaking and exemptions.
  • Requires the agency to issue or update guidance to clarify the conditions under which a major alteration requires a supplemental type certificate.
  • Requires FAA investigations to be completed within two years of issuance of a letter of investigation.
  • Encourages the agency to more aggressively pursue cooperation with other civil aviation authorities.
  • Reauthorizes, triples funding for, and improves the aviation workforce grant programs created at ARSA’s suggestion in 2018 (and creates a similar new grant program for the aviation manufacturing workforce).
  • Creates a new National Center for the Advancement of Aerospace to coordinate workforce development activities between industry, academia, and other stakeholders.
  • Establishes an interagency working group to improve transition for military to aviation careers.
  • Establishes a working group to examine airman knowledge testing.

While ARSA is pleased the T&I Committee adopted so many of the association’s recommendations, the bill also includes language (that passed the House in a standalone bill last fall) targeting foreign repair stations. While the legislation was greatly improved last spring in committee to be much less disruptive, given the maintenance industry’s safety record and the scrutiny foreign repair stations already receive from the FAA, airline customers, and third-party auditors, ARSA continues to believe that the foreign repair station language is a solution in search of a problem.

Look for more analysis of FAA reauthorization legislation from ARSA in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, review the bill for yourself and contact the association with questions or thoughts.

7/22/22 - Aviation Bills Move on the Hill

June 22, 2022

Aviation took center stage on Capitol Hill in recent weeks as the House of Representatives passed legislation to improve government coordination on advanced air mobility and the Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee reported bills impacting the aviation supply chain and repair station oversight.

The House passed the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Coordination and Leadership Act (H.R. 1339/S. 516) on June 14. The bill instructs the U.S. Department of Transportation to create an AAM interagency working group to evaluate, plan, and coordinate efforts regarding the safety, infrastructure, and security of the developing AAM ecosystem in the United States.

“If we want to keep leading the world in aviation, we can’t wait for technologies to come to us. Today, members from both sides of the aisle showed they are ready to take advantage of the next wave of transportation innovation by passing the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act,” Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), the bill’s lead sponsor said.

The strong bipartisan vote in favor of the bill (380 to 30) puts pressure on the Senate to act on the legislation. To review more information on the bill, click here.

On June 15, the T&I Committee gave its approval to two additional bills. The first was the Safe Aircraft Maintenance Standards Act (HR. 7321), which was completely revised and renamed to address concerns raised by ARSA and other industry groups. The bill was changed as follows:

  • New name. The bill is no longer “the Safe Aircraft Maintenance Standards Act”. The new name is the “Global Aviation Maintenance Safety Improvement Act.”
  • While the new version of the bill still requires reporting by air carriers about where heavy maintenance (C and D checks) is performed, those reports (annually) will be less frequent and the information submitted will be protected as confidential.
  • The original version of HR. 7321 required direct certification under part 65 of certain foreign repair station personnel; while the new version still requires personnel certification, it can occur under either part 65 or an equivalent foreign personnel certification system.
  • CAT 2 countries are still in the crosshairs, but the implications of falling into CAT 2 status are now less disruptive. The new bill only prohibits new repair station certificate applications from CAT 2 countries and new contracts for heavy maintenance work.
  • The new bill still directs the long-awaited drug and alcohol rulemaking to be finished within the year, but rather than punishing industry with a new foreign repair station certification ban if the rulemaking isn’t complete, the new bill bars the FAA from traveling internationally until the rulemaking is done (with exceptions for safety-related travel, travel in the national interest, etc.).
  • The bill still allows unannounced inspections, but they are “unannounced” only to the repair station. The bill allows notification of foreign authorities, governments, etc. and those unannounced visits may be risked based and must take place with U.S. international agreements and diplomatic norms.
  • The new version of the bill also directs a joint authorities review to examine the question of foreign repair station oversight on a global basis.

To read the full text of the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute (ANS), click here.

ARSA still thinks repair station legislation is a solution in search of a problem. The industry’s safety record is exceptional and new, unnecessary mandates on the agency or industry will only divert resources. However, with House T&I Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) retiring at the end of this Congress, this is his last opportunity to move legislation on an issue he’s considered a priority on throughout his career.

Whether or not the bill moves further this Congress (time is short and there’s no obvious vehicle nor Senate companion), given that there are a handful of pro-labor GOP members who support DeFazio’s bill, the T&I Committee’s Republican leadership cannot dismiss the legislation out of hand. Even if Republicans (who have been less susceptible to the false safety arguments used by the bill’s proponents) are running the T&I Committee and aviation subcommittee next year, there is the risk that the legislation could be added as an amendment on a bipartisan basis during a future FAA bill markup.

By negotiating now, the T&I Committee has reframed the conversation and crafted a much more reasonable bill that limits disruption, recognizes our bilateral commitments and minimizes the risks of retaliation against U.S. industry. ARSA will continue to lead lobbying efforts on maintenance issues.

On June 15, the T&I Committee also reported the American Aerospace Supply Chain Resiliency, Innovation, and Advancement Act (H.R. 8049). The bipartisan bill, which is sponsored by the chairman and ranking members of both the T&I Committee and aviation subcommittee, would create a new industry-government task force to investigate supply chain problems and recommend solutions. 

ARSA members wishing to support the association’s legislative program should contact ARSA Executive Vice President Christian Klein for help coordinating a congressional visit to your facility this summer.

Click the year to relive the 2012, 2016, and 2018 reauthorization cycles.



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