Planes, Drones and $…The 2018 Appropriation and Aviation

After four governmentwide short-term stopgap funding provisions since last September, Congress has enacted, and the President has signed, a full fiscal year Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-141, March 23, 2018), a 2,149-page behemoth that provides a total of $1.3 trillion in funding.

According to a summary of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018, (Division L of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, commonly referred to as “THUD”) prepared by the Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, the Department of Transportation (DOT) appropriations include $18 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an increase of $1.6 billion above the  fiscal year (FY) 2017 level. The summary also highlights the following measures:

  • Full funding for all air traffic control personnel, including 14,500 air traffic controllers, 74,000 safety inspectors, and operational support personnel.
  • $1.3 billion for NextGen (an increase of $239 million above the FY 2017 enacted level).
  • $165 million for the Contract Tower Program (currently consisting of 253 towers).
  • An additional $1 billion in airport discretionary grants for nonprimary airports and primary airports classified as Small or Nonhub airports with the greatest need for infrastructure improvements (with the Federal share of the costs of a grant to a nonprimary airport equal to 100 percent).

Other aviation-related provisions in the appropriations act include:

  • Organization Designation Authorizations (ODAs): Prohibits the FAA’s use of any funds appropriated to it in the act to limit the use of an ODA’s delegated functions on a type certificate project unless the FAA Administrator documents a “systematic airworthiness noncompliance issue” or “where an ODA’s capability has not been previously established in terms of a new compliance method or design feature.”
  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS):
  • Research: Providing $24.035 million in Research, Engineering, and Development funds to the FAA to be allocated as follows: $12.035 million to support the expanded role of the UAS Center of Excellence, $2 million is to expand the Center’s role in transportation disaster preparedness and response, and $10 million is to support UAS research activities at the FAA technical center and other FAA facilities. (The appropriated amount represents an increase of $17.248 million over the amount requested by the Administration).
  • Purchase of UAS by DOT and its Operating Administrations: Including general language authorizing the Department and its operating administrations to use “applicable appropriations … to purchase, maintain[ ], operat[e], and deploy[ ] … unmanned aircraft systems that advance the Department’s, or its operating administrations’, missions.
  • Cybersecurity: Includes $24 million to address cybersecurity requirements for the air traffic control system, as well as other FAA critical systems.

Aviation Consumer Protection: The Explanatory Statement of the House Appropriations Committee that accompanies the Consolidated Appropriations bill, 2018, requests DOT “to work in collaboration with industry, consumers, and other stakeholders to establish guidelines which should lead to airlines or any for-profit seller of commercial air transportation displaying, on an airline’s website or any travel metasearch website with which the airline is partnered, full ticketing charges, including, but not limited to, seat price, any additional fees the consumer will pay per piece of baggage or per seat upgrade, and optional flight insurance costs.”

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB): Also worthy of note is the amount appropriated to the NTSB: $110.4 million, which is $1.2 million more than the amount requested by the Administration and $2 million more than was appropriated to the agency in FY 2017. A portion of this increase is to provide funding for Emerging Transportation Technologies and enable the NTSB to employ appropriate equipment and analytical tools to investigate those transportation accidents in which the latest technologies may have contributed to accident causation.

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