Congress Continues Reauthorization Drafting Process, Introduces Language in House and Senate

Transportation leaders in Congress are queuing up a host of bills over the summer legislative session, including the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill set to expire Sept. 30.

ATEC has engaged with our industry allies and provided considerable input into the legislative text, and this month, both the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction released their respective proposed language.

On June 14 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its version, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935), which will now go to the floor for a vote.

The Senate Commerce Committee has not passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023, but draft text was released in early June. A committee “markup” date—a key step required before the bill can advance to the Senate floor—has not been set.

Once passed through their respective bodies, the bills will go to Conference Committee to work out the differences before they are ultimately sent to the President. Thus, several steps remain before the language becomes law, and each present an opportunity to further influence national policy and support for aviation technical education.

All of ATEC’s legislative proposals are addressed in one or both versions of the bill, a testament to the council’s influence and the strong coalitions built in furtherance of workforce development initiatives. While final provisions were generally greeted with enthusiasm, ATEC will continue to push for refinements as the text progresses through the process.

Here is how each of the council’s legislative priorities are currently addressed:

  • Increase and expand workforce grant program funding. In the last reauthorization bill, passed in 2018, Congress established the Aviation Workforce Development Grants program, authorizing $10 million in funding for pilot and maintenance workforce development programs. There is wide-spread support for the program’s expansion as evidenced by language in both the House and Senate versions authorizing funding for an additional five years, adding a manufacturing program, and increasing the maximum amount available to each grantee. The Senate version (Sec. 501) would maintain the $10 million in funding for pilot and maintenance and add on an additional $10 million for the manufacturing program. The House version (Sec. 301 and 302) allocates $15 million for each of the three programs and would also expand eligibility to including non-profit organizations and any part 147 program (whether it is considered an institute of higher education or not). While ATEC will support any legislation that continues the highly popular program, it prefers the House language given the increased funding and eligibility provisions.
  • Improve airman testing and airman certification standard systems. The council implored Congress to direct the agency to implement recommendations submitted by an agency-industry working group calling for timely publishing of time-critical safety information and continued engagement with community partners to continually improve the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) and accompanying guidance materials. Proposed legislation on the House side (Sec. 313) would direct the agency to publish a process for updating and maintaining the ACS, guidance, and handbooks and to access methods to increase access to knowledge testing, including increased utilization of part 147 proctoring systems and the accuracy of public sample knowledge tests. The House version also directs the agency to publish the mechanic ACS within 18 months, a misdirected mandate given the standard was published last September along with the new part 147. The Senate (Sec. 510) has taken a more clean-lined approach, directing the agency to obtain industry recommendations on maintaining and updating ACS, and reengaging with the ACS working group so ensure testing and training remain correlated.
  • Provide access to general knowledge testing earlier in the training cycle. Under the current regulatory framework, high school aviation maintenance programs may not refer their students to an FAA-approved testing center to take the general written knowledge test. ATEC proposed a modification to part 65 to allow applicants to sit for the general knowledge test prior to meeting experience requirements. The Senate has incorporated provisions into its draft text (Sec. 503) giving the FAA two years to publish a study on the aviation maintenance technician pipeline and barriers for students enrolled in high school aviation maintenance programs. While added with good intention, ATEC’s position is that the study would not provide any value and would only delay rulemaking efforts. House language (Sec. 312) differs but is similarly problematic. Representatives there have suggested an “evaluation” of aviation maintenance curriculum, an “assessment” of opportunities to allow a high school student to take the general knowledge exam, and submission of working group recommendations to “facilitate the approval of aviation maintenance curriculum for use by a high school or secondary school educator.” ATEC’s position is that any provision directing the agency to “evaluate” or “approve” curriculum is outside the FAA’s purview and any text directing study of those initiatives should be stricken from the legislation.
  • Expedite military service member transition into civilian aviation careers. The council joined a coalition of stakeholders asking Congress to direct creation of a military competency exam that will provide a pathway to mechanic certification for existing servicemen and women, similar to the pathway available to military pilots. House (Sec. 504) and Senate (Sec. 311) language both direct agencies to improve career transition but in largely different ways. If passed, the House version would create a working group to evaluate the regulatory environment and provide recommendations for policy improvements. Preferrable language in the Senate takes a more forceful approach, directing the agency to create a military competency test and associated ACS and better leverage the Joint Services Aviation Maintenance Technician Certification Council (JSAMTCC).

ATEC members are encouraged to reach out to their respective congressional leaders to provide
necessary feedback and/or support for these initiatives as the FAA reauthorization bill makes its way through the respective committees and chambers.