Duckworth Touts Key Priorities Included in Bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023
Duckworth successfully authored key provisions to help improve safety, expand the aviation workforce and enhance consumer protections for people with disabilities
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)—member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation—today announced several of her key priorities were included in the bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023. As one of the authors of the legislation, Duckworth successfully secured provisions that will improve safety for consumers, expand the aviation workforce and enhance protections for travelers with disabilities. If passed, the FAA reauthorization bill would extend FAA’s funding and authorities through the Fiscal Year 2028.
“The FAA Reauthorization Act is a win not only for our economy, but for aviation safety advocates and the flying public,” said Duckworth. “As Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, I’m so proud that this bill includes many of my priorities—including a modified version of the EVAC Act—to make flying safer and more accessible for all Americans. I’m grateful to my colleagues for working together to produce a strong, bipartisan bill that helps modernize the FAA, creates jobs, boosts the aviation workforce, increases consumer protections and makes sure people with disabilities are treated with the dignity and respect all Americans deserve.”
This reauthorization is the result of months-long bipartisan negotiations among the leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee between Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Subcommittee leadership Chair Duckworth and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS).
Key priorities that Duckworth successfully included in the bill are listed below.
Increasing Aviation Workforce Development
The FAA Reauthorization Act includes a version the Duckworth-Moran bipartisan Aviation Workforce Development Enhancement and will triple annual funding levels for FAA Workforce Development Grants that support institutions that train pilots and aviation mechanics from $10 million to $30 million. It authorizes an additional $10 million per year for a new grant program that supports institutions that train aviation manufacturing workers, for a total annual authorization level of $40 million per year for aviation workforce development grants, which amounts to a five-year authorization level of $200 million.
After introducing their bipartisan bill in December 2022, Senators Duckworth and Moran (R-KS) worked with Senators Klobuchar (D-MN), Thune (R-SC), Kelly (D-AZ), Fischer (R-NE), Warnock (D-GA) and Capito (R-WV) to expand support for this program and craft the bipartisan Aviation Workforce Development Recruitment Act, which was included the Senate FAA reauthorization bill.
Improving Aviation Emergency Evacuation Standards
The modified version of the Duckworth-Baldwin EVAC Act in the FAA reauthorization bill would require modernization and improvements to aircraft evacuation standards by requiring the FAA to conduct a comprehensive study on aircraft evacuation and empanel a committee of experts and stakeholders—including representatives of the disability community, senior citizens and pediatricians—to evaluate gaps in current evacuations standards and operating procedures and make recommendations. Additionally, the FAA would be required to initiate a rulemaking on any recommendations the FAA Administrator deems appropriate. The FAA would also be required to report study findings, committee recommendations and the Administrator’s plan to implement any such recommendations.
The FAA study on evacuations would include:
- Prospective risk analysis, not just evaluation of past incidents.
- Recommendations for how to improve evacuation regulations and demonstrations to ensure they account for passengers with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs or other mobility assistive devices.
- Research on risk posed by carry-on bags recommended by NTSB.
- Whether each new generation of aircraft should be required to undergo full-scale in-person evacuation testing.
- An assessment of the following evacuation conditions:
- Presence of passengers of different ages, including infants, children and senior citizens;
- Presence of passengers with disabilities;
- Presence of passengers who have difficulty speaking or are non-verbal;
- Presence of passengers who do not speak English;
- Presence of carry-on luggage and personal items such as purse, briefcase or backpack
- Seat size and spacing;
- Passenger load; and
- Presence of service animals.
Prioritizing Aviation Accessibility for All
Duckworth led several efforts to make travel easier and more accessible for people with disabilities. Those included in this bill are:
- Prioritizing Accountability and Accessibility for Aviation Consumers Act of 2023: requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) publish an annual report on how quickly, effectively and efficiently consumer complaints related to traveling with a disability are received, addressed and resolved by DOT.
- Mobility Aids On Board Improve Lives and Empower All (MOBILE) Act: requires DOT issue an advisory circular that provides guidance to airlines on publishing information related to powered wheelchairs, including the dimensions of aircraft cargo holds, and evaluate the frequency and types of mishandling of mobility aids and take actions towards making in-flight wheelchair seating available.
- Access and Dignity for All People who Travel (ADAPT) Act: requires DOT issue regulations regarding seating accommodations for passengers with disabilities that takes into account being seated next to their companion and requires the Secretary of Transportation establish an optional Known Service Animal Travel Pilot Program, providing service animal users the opportunity to participate in a streamlined pre-registration process.
- Equal Accessibility to Passenger Portals (Equal APP) Act: requires DOT issue regulations to ensure that customer-facing websites, applications and information communication technologies (ICT) of airlines and airports are accessible. It would require the Secretary to conduct regular audits of such websites, applications and ICTs and allow the Secretary to hold non-compliant entities accountable by issuing civil penalties.
- Store On-board Wheelchairs in Cabin (STOWIC) Act: requires airlines provide information on the airline website—and anywhere people can make reservations— regarding the rights and responsibilities of both airlines and passengers as to the availability of on-board wheelchairs. It would also require annual staff training regarding assisting people with disabilities on the use of on-board wheelchairs and the right to request an on-board wheelchair. It would allow the Secretary to issue enhanced civil penalties if airlines fail to provide an on-board wheelchair.
- Airport Accessibility Grants: authorizes a pilot grant program to help airports make their facilities more accessible. The program would be funded at $20 million per year from Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds.
Safeguarding the 1,500-Hour Rule
In 2009, Colgan Air flight 3407 crashed outside of Buffalo, New York, killing all 50 people onboard. Following this tragedy, Congress passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administrative Extension Act, which required all flight crewmembers operating a commercial aircraft under Part 121 to hold an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and directed the FAA to update qualifications for such ATP certificates to include a minimum of 1,500 hours. The 1,500 hours of flight experience must include enough hours, as determined by the FAA, in difficult operational conditions that may be encountered in air carrier operations. The language gave FAA some flexibility in allowing exemptions for certain structured training programs provided they offer an equivalent level of safety.
Despite efforts to rollback or weaken the 1,500-hour rule, Duckworth advocated to leave the policy as-is, thus helping ensure that pilots have high levels of training and are prepared in the case of life-threatening emergencies.
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