On Thursday, September 28, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth spoke before a group of key Washington, D.C. aviation stakeholders. The event, held by the AeroClub of Washington, D.C., took place just days before a looming government shutdown in the U.S.
Sen. Duckworth, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Aviation Subcommittee, will help lead the Senate's passage of its version of the FAA Reauthorization bill. As discussed here previously, the FAA’s current authorization is set to expire tomorrow, on September 30. Earlier this summer, the House passed its version of the FAA reauthorization bill, but the Senate did not. Upon return from the August recess, resolution of larger Congressional issues such as the impending shutdown, have taken priority over issue-specific items such as the FAA reauthorization.
At the AeroClub event, Sen. Duckworth addressed several key issues holding up resolution of the FAA bill. One such issue relates to pilot training hours required for commercial carriers. Currently, the FAA requires 1,500 of training to fly a commercial carrier, 100 of which may be accrued in a simulator. A nationwide pilot shortage has led to proposals to amend this rule, including by allowing pilots to accrue more hours in a simulator. Sen. Duckworth indicated that the Senate's version of the FAA bill will not proceed as long as the 1500 rule was "under attack."
Another key issue addressed by Sen. Duckworth relates to the appointment of a permanent FAA Administrator. Sen. Duckworth indicated that the Senate intends to hold on October 5 an appointment hearing for Mike Whitaker, President Biden's nominee for FAA Administrator. Even if the U.S. government is in the midst of a shutdown, the Senate may hold such a hearing next week. Many in the aviation industry would argue that this appointment cannot come soon enough: the FAA has been operating with an Acting Administrator since Steve Dickson announced his retirement in February 2022. Polly Trottenberg, the Deputy Secretary for Transportation and acting FAA Administrator, will have to step down from her role on Oct. 25 due to laws governing presidential nominees.
By way of temporary solution, Congress may pass a continuing resolution that would allow the whole of government to continue running into November. This continuing resolution would also allow the FAA to keep running through the end of the calendar year. The aviation industry is hopeful that this would provide Congress with enough time to pass the FAA reauthorization bill.