Senate Commerce Committee Passes Bipartisan, 5-Year FAA, NTSB Reauthorizations Focused on Improving Safety, Advancing Technology, and Protecting Consumers

Increases FAA safety inspectors, air traffic controllers, FAA oversight of foreign repair stations; Requires FAA safety technology deployment to prevent near-misses, 25-hour cockpit voice recorders, investigations of service difficulty reports; Sets refund standards for non-refundable tickets, protects vouchers for five years, prohibits fees for family seating, triples fines for airline consumer violations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the bipartisan Senate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023. The legislation includes several provisions to strengthen safety standards and oversight at the FAA and responds to safety concerns from recent aviation accidents and near-misses.

"This bipartisan bill delivers improvements to aviation safety and consumer protections that Americans have been demanding,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the committee. “The bill will put more FAA safety inspectors on factory floors and more air traffic controllers in towers.  It forces airlines to improve customer service—establishing mandatory refunds for flight disruptions and barring carriers from charging extra for families to sit together. Aviation is a key sector of the U.S. economy and supports millions of U.S. jobs. We need to make the right investments, hire the best-skilled workers, and make our aviation safety system the gold standard of the world.”

The legislation strengthens aviation safety and the safety workforce. To address the air traffic controller shortage, the bill mandates that the FAA implement new staffing models to close the current gap of 3,000 controllers and requires FAA to beef up staffing to close the 20% shortage of FAA safety inspectors responsible for certification and production oversight. The FAA will also be required to raise the safety bar for foreign repair stations to meet U.S. standards.

Additionally, the bill requires more deployment of surface detection technology to prevent near-misses at large and medium hub airports and requires that airplanes be equipped with 25-hour cockpit voice recorders, so that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has critical data to aid investigations. The bill also requires more robust reporting and FAA investigation of Service Difficulty Reports. By also reauthorizing the NTSB, the legislation will increase its capacity to hire safety investigators.

The legislation additionally strengthens consumer protections, setting the first-ever refund standards for passengers with non-refundable tickets when domestic flights are cancelled or delayed three hours. Airline vouchers will be required to last at least five years, so they don’t expire before customers can use them, and airlines will be prohibited from charging parents extra to be seated next to their children. Fines against airlines for aviation consumer protection violations will be tripled and a new stand-alone Office of Aviation Consumer Protection will give consumers a strong cop on the beat. Additionally, the bill enhances protections for individuals with disabilities.

To grow the future of aviation, the legislation also boosts funding for the Essential Air Service Program and doubles funding for the Small Community Air Service program -- so that small community economies can connect and thrive -- and continues investments to modernize airport infrastructure.  The bill requires the FAA to create new standards for drones and electric air taxis so that the United States leads the pack on new technology, and creates a dedicated Office of Advanced Aviation Technology.  The bill further expands research on cutting-edge materials and composites that could make aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient. 

A full breakdown of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 can be read HERE.

The Committee held eight aviation hearings to inform the bill’s drafting, including: Integrating new entrants into the National Airspace System on September 28, 2022, strengthening airline operations and consumer protections following the Southwest and holiday cancellations on February 9, 2023, modernizing the FAA’s NOTAM system following failures on February 15, 2023, overseeing aviation safety and the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act on March 8, 2023, strengthening the aviation workforce on March 16, 2023, enhancing consumer protections and small airport connectivity on March 23, 2023, advancing the next generation aviation technologies on March 29, 2023, and addressing close calls to improve aviation safety on November 9, 2023.