Airport Alert: Senate Passes Comprehensive FAA Reauthorization Bill

Senate Passes Comprehensive FAA Reauthorization Bill;  May Clear Short-Term Extension Tonight
May 9, 2024

After Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) used procedural maneuvers to turn back a long list of amendments including one that would have restricted TSA from using facial recognition technology at security checkpoints, the Senate by a vote of 88 to 4 just passed a multi-year FAA reauthorization bill.
The Senate may also clear a week-long FAA extension tonight – a day before the current stop-gap measure is set to expire. But final passage of the stop-gap measure is up in the air at this point. The House of Representatives approved the week-long extension yesterday as we reported, and House lawmakers are expected to approve the long-term bill when they return to session next week. 
The FAA reauthorization bill will increase AIP funding to $4 billion annually, authorize $200 million annually for resilience and runway safety projects, and help airports transition to fluorine-free firefighting foam. The bicameral and bipartisan measure will also usher in a long of AIP formula changes, take steps to streamline the PFC application process, and provide some regulatory relief to airports.
Today’s Action
Before final passage, Leader Schumer tried to tee up a vote on an amendment regarding slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The amendment, which was proposed by senators from the Washington, DC area, would have required DOT to consider the impact on flight delays, cancellations, and passenger safety before awarding additional slot exemptions at DCA. But Schumer couldn’t get unanimous consent for a vote.
Lawmakers were attempting to finish the reauthorization bill this week, but the Senate couldn’t finish it in time for the House to meet the Friday deadline. So, the House yesterday passed another stop-gap measure to extend aviation programs and excise taxes through May 17. Unless lawmakers in the Senate can reach an agreement on the extension, we could see a temporary lapse in aviation excise taxes, costing more than $50 million per day in foregone revenue.
Amendments Adopted 
Senate leaders earlier in the process added a handful of mostly non-controversial amendments to the FAA bill including those listed below:
Hassan/Airport Changing Stations: The Senate-passed bill includes a proposal from Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) that would require large and medium hub airports to have universal changing stations for individuals with disabilities in each of their terminals. 
Cortez Masto/Human Trafficking: The revised bill also includes a proposal from Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) that would provide grants to help airports combat human trafficking.
Durbin/Small Community Air Service: The revised bill includes a proposal from Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) that calls on GAO to conduct a study on the challenges faced by nonhub airports that do not participate in the Essential Air Service Program.
Amendments Not Adopted
Merkley-Kennedy/Facial Recognition: Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and John Kennedy (R-LA) filed an amendment that would have prohibited or severely restricted the TSA from using biometric facial matching technologies at security checkpoints. But the Senate did not vote on the amendment. AAAE, ACI-NA, and other aviation stakeholders urged lawmakers to reject the proposal because it would reduce aviation security and create longer lines at security checkpoints. 
Brown/Ground Transportation: The bill does not include an amendment from Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that called for federal regulation of local fees airport operators charge ground transportation providers at their facilities. AAAE opposed the Brown amendment. We argued that the proposal would impair the ability of local airport authorities to manage traffic at already congested facilities, which could increase traffic, pollution, user inconvenience, and costs to other airport users.
Warren-Hawley/Gates: Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) tried unsuccessfully to add the “Airport Gate Competition Act” to the FAA bill. Their proposal would have required airports to ensure that at least 25 percent of their gates are common use and not more than 50 percent are exclusive use. Their proposal also called for a new grant assurance that would have required airports to “take all practicable steps to accommodate requests for reasonable access…to terminal facilities.’’
Graham-Lee/Age 67: Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mike Lee (R-ID) filed amendments to raise the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67. Although the House-passed FAA bill included the proposal to raise the mandatory retirement age, negotiators dropped it from the final bill. But there were no votes on those amendments.