H.R. 3935, known as the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, successfully passed the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill serves to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ensuring continuity and support for the nation’s aviation sector.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced H.R. 3935,  the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, by a unanimous bipartisan 63-0 vote. The U.S. Senate is considering its version of the legislation.

See below- H.R. 3935 Measures that Impact Airspace Awareness for a summary of sections of the bill that relate to airspace awareness and protection

The bill includes H.R. 3559, also known as the FAA Research and Development Act of 2023, a bipartisan measure formulated by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. H.R. 3559 specifically caters to FAA research and development initiatives, aiming to enhance the safety of air travel, elevate the flying experience, and bolster U.S. competitiveness in the aviation industry. This legislation reflects substantial input from Committee Members and external stakeholders, culminating in a comprehensive framework to modernize and enhance American aviation.

The House Science Committee holds authority over the FAA’s research, engineering, and development endeavors, encompassing many areas. These include initiatives to decrease fuel consumption and flight durations, implement improved structural materials for aircraft and airports, and conduct research on the impact of flight on human health.

“Our goal with our bill was to support smart, strategic work to promote innovation and keep America the global leader in aviation,” House Science Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said. “H.R. 3559 is comprehensive legislation that quite literally supports aviation from the ground up, from the durability of our runways to how we monitor traffic over oceans and remote areas. It accelerates the development of advanced materials for aerospace vehicle construction, and supports research into how to more accurately predict weather to reduce delays and increase safety. I’d like to thank my Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren for working with me in good faith to develop the R&D portion of this legislation and, once again, thank Chairman Graves and Ranking Member Larsen for incorporating our work into this package.”

The FAA Reauthorization Act Overview

The FAA Reauthorization Act covers a wide variety of issues related to the safety of the national airspace:

  • directs the FAA to increase air traffic controller hiring targets;
  • establishes a workforce development program to support the education, recruitment, and retention of aviation professionals;
  • establishes an FAA Ombudsman to coordinate the response to submissions of inquiries or objections relating to issues such as aircraft certifications and registrations, pilot certificates, and operational approvals, waivers, or exemptions;
  • raises the commercial airline pilot retirement age to 67 (currently 65);
  • prohibits aircraft dispatchers from working remotely, with limited exceptions for emergencies;
  • requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish standards to ensure the aircraft boarding and deplaning process is accessible for individuals with disabilities, including for individuals who use wheelchairs;
  • requires DOT to establish a policy directing certain air carriers to seat a young child next to an accompanying adult if adjacent seats are available without charging an additional fee;
  • prohibits the FAA from requiring mask-wearing or COVID-19 vaccines for passengers, air carrier employees, or FAA employees;
  • requires the FAA to issue rules to update the requirements for testing and operating unmanned aircraft (i.e., drones), including for drones operating beyond the visual line of sight; and
  • requires the FAA to issue rules for certifying pilots for powered-lift aircraft (i.e., capable of vertical takeoff and landing) and operational rules for powered-lift aircraft.

H.R. 3935 – Measures that Impact Airspace Awareness

The House version of the FAA Reauthorization Act includes measures that may directly or indirectly impact airspace awareness and protection (Counter-UAS) operations. Airspace awareness refers to real-time visibility of all aspects of the airspace in and around protected areas. It logically includes awareness of both manned and unmanned aircraft traffic. A comprehensive understanding of the airspace is crucial for making informed decisions during all phases of a Counter-UAS mission.

Examples of proposed measures that impact airspace awareness and protection include:

SECTION 222– Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report on ADS-B Technology

The Comptroller General of the United States shall conduct a study on automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast equipage and usage rates across the active general aviation fleet in the United States.

SECTION 226– Alternative ADS-B Technologies For Use In Certain Small Aircraft

Not later than 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall publish an approved list of effective alternatives to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast equipment for covered aircraft operating outside of Mode C veil airspace so that such aircraft may voluntarily broadcast positioning to other aircraft.

SECTION 534– Safety Data Analysis for Aircraft Without Transponders

Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, in coordination with the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, shall collect and analyze data relating to accidents and incidents involving covered exempt aircraft that occurred within 30 nautical miles of an airport.

Section 606– Recreational Operations of Drone Systems

The Administrator shall establish a process to approve, and publicly disseminate the location of fixed sites at which a person may carry out recreational unmanned aircraft system operations.

Section 608– Applications for Designation

In this section, Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (Public Law 114-190) is further amended, which provides the FAA with the authority to restrict drone operations in certain areas. The terms “eligible outdoor gatherings” and “state correctional facilities” are added to the locations in which drone operations can be restricted.

Eligible outdoor gatherings means that the event is:

  • is primarily outdoors;
  • has an estimated daily attendance of 20,000 or greater in at least 1 of the preceding 3 years;
  • has defined and static geographical boundaries; and
  • is advertised in the public domain

The FAA is further required to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking to carry out the requirements of this section by March 1, 2024.

SECTION 609– Beyond Visual Line of Sight Rulemaking

Not later than 4 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall issue a notice of proposed rulemaking establishing performance-based airworthiness criteria and risk-based operational regulations for unmanned aircraft systems operated beyond visual line of sight that are intended to operate primarily at or below 400 feet above ground level.

SECTION 610– UAS Traffic Management

Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may enter into agreements for the purposes of:

  • testing and refining UTM capabilities and services to inform the development of UTM standards
  • authorizing UTM service providers that meet the requirements described in subsection (b) to provide UTM services to better enable advanced unmanned aircraft systems operations, including beyond visual line of sight operations; aircraft-to-aircraft communications; and operations in which an individual acts as a remote pilot in command of more than 1 unmanned aircraft at the same time
  • fostering the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems using UTM capabilities and services within the national airspace system.

SECTION 611– Radar Data Pilot Program

Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, and other heads of Federal agencies, shall establish a pilot program to make airspace data feeds containing classified or controlled unclassified information available to qualified users, in conjunction with subsection (b).

In subsection (b), the data feeds related to air traffic would be used for air traffic management services; unmanned aircraft system traffic management services; or to test technologies that may enable or enhance the provision of the services previously described.

SECTION 612– Electronic Conspicuity Study

The Comptroller General of the United States shall conduct a study of technologies and methods that may be used by operators of unmanned aircraft systems to detect and avoid manned aircraft that may lawfully operate below 500 feet above ground level and that are not equipped with a transponder or automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast out equipment; or otherwise not electronically conspicuous.

SECTION 613– Remote Identification Alternative Means of Compliance

The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall review and evaluate the final rule titled, “Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft,” issued on January 15, 2021, to determine the feasibility and advisability of whether unmanned aircraft manufacturers and operators can meet the intent of such final rule through alternative means of compliance, including through network-based remote identification.

SECTION 615– Acceptable Levels of Risk and Risk Assessment Methodology

Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall establish an acceptable level of risk, and develop a risk assessment methodology associated with such levels of risk, to enable unmanned aircraft system operations conducted under waivers issued to part 107 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations; pursuant to section 44807 of title 49, United States Code; or pursuant to future regulations promulgated by the Administrator, as appropriate.

SECTION 627– Temporary Flight Restriction Integrity

Section 40103(b) of title 49, United States Code, is amended by adding:

In issuing a temporary flight restriction, the Administrator shall ensure there is a specific and articulable safety or security basis for the size, scope , and duration of such restriction; immediately distribute a notice of the temporary flight restriction via the Notice to Air Missions system; and detail in the notice the safety basis for the restriction and how a covered person may lawfully and expeditiously operate an aircraft within the restriction.

A covered person means a public safety agency, a first responder, an accredited news representative, or any other person as determined appropriate by the administrator.

The aviation industry is evolving quickly. The actions pending in Congress will significantly impact the unmanned aviation sector for years to come.

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