HomePoliticsBiden signs sweeping aviation safety reform bill into law

Biden signs sweeping aviation safety reform bill into law

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden signed sweeping aviation legislation on Thursday that will boost the workforce of U.S. air traffic controllers, increase funding to prevent runway closure incidents and speed up refunds for canceled flights.

The five-year, $105 billion measure reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration. It bans airlines from charging for families to sit together, requires aircraft to be equipped with cockpit recording equipment that can record 25 hours a day, increases maximum civil penalties for violations by airline consumers from $25,000 per violation to $75,000 and increases oversight of aircraft production.

“After flight disruptions, runway closures and consumer frustrations, this bill will create the safest and most reliable aviation system in the world,” said the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Maria Cantwell. “Aircraft manufacturers will see more safety inspectors on factory floors and stricter safety standards from the FAA.”

Biden has repeatedly clashed with airlines, calling for new, tougher consumer rules and sharply criticizing them for imposing fees. His administration has also taken aggressive action to block further consolidation in the passenger aviation industry, including successfully blocking a partnership between JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines and destroying an alliance between JetBlue and American Airlines.

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The law also adds five daily take-offs and landings at the busy Washington National Airport, which Delta Air Lines had lobbied for. The bill also directs the FAA to deploy advanced airport surface technology to help prevent collisions.

Efforts to boost aviation safety in the United States have taken on new urgency after a series of near misses and the mid-air emergency of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 flight in January.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said the bill “allows for more runway safety technology, more air traffic controllers and stronger oversight of aircraft production.”

The bill will also allow Boeing to continue producing its 767 freighter in the United States for an additional five years through 2033, giving it an exemption from efficiency rules that take effect in 2028.

The bill aims to address the 3,000 air traffic controller shortage by directing the FAA to implement better staffing standards and hire more inspectors, engineers and technical specialists.

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The bill does not raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots to 67, as House lawmakers tried to do last year, and maintains training requirements for pilots.

Congress will not set minimum seat size requirements, instead leaving that up to the FAA. The bill requires the Transportation Department to create a dashboard that shows consumers the minimum seat size for each U.S. airline.

Lawmakers also rejected many other consumer provisions sought by the Biden administration, including requiring compensation for lengthy airline-related delays, as is the case in Europe.

The bill reauthorizes the National Transportation Safety Board and increases staffing at the safety investigation agency. It also aims to encourage the adoption of drones and flying air taxis in the national airspace and extends the government’s existing anti-drone authority until October 1.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Susan Heavey, Brendan O’Boyle and Jamie Freed)

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