Alaska Delegation celebrate wins for Alaska in the FAA Reauthorization Act

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett)

Washington, D.C. (KINY) – U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) voted in favor of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2024.

The legislation passed in the Senate by a vote of 84-4 and reauthorizes the FAA through 2028. It now proceeds to the House for final passage before the President signs it into law.

The bill reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) through Fiscal Year 2028, providing policy direction, certainty, and authority to hire and train air traffic controllers, establish protections for passengers with disabilities, develop technology programs, and improve safety.

The Senate also passed a one-week short-term extension to avoid a lapse in FAA authorities set to expire this Friday, and to allow time for the House to consider and pass the long-term reauthorization next week.

“The FAA reauthorization is a significant step forward for the entire aviation ecosystem – Americans can fly with a greater peace of mind knowing that strong policy and investments have been made with their safety in mind,” Senator Murkowski said.

“As this legislation came together, I sought to address the unique challenges facing the Alaskan aviation system due to our harsh environment and reliance on air transportation. I’m particularly proud of the Don Young Alaska Aviation Safety Initiative, a multifaceted program that will improve Alaska’s aviation safety record, ensuring passengers flying in everything from Boeing 737s to Cessna 206s will be safer in the skies. This initiative’s emphasis on providing reliable certified weather reporting data will help pilots make decisions that improve safety and improve the flow of air service into rural communities.”

“Aviation is as essential to countless Alaska communities as roads and bridges are to most Lower 48 communities—it’s the only way in or out, both for residents andfor basic goods and services,” Sen. Sullivan said.

“This stark reality makes the periodic FAA reauthorization such an important piece of legislation for Alaska. My team and I worked closely with Alaska’s general, commercial and cargo aviation sectors, and our air traffic control community, to craft provisions that will improve safety in Alaska, sustain the vital Essential Air Service program, provide flexibility from one-size-fits-all regulations that just don’t work for our state, and invest robustly in all aspects of our aviation infrastructure. Our amendments also focus on strengthening America’s strained aviation workforce pipeline, removing barriers for individuals interested in becoming pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics, technicians, or related aviation professionals—especially our retiring military members who offer a wealth of skills and experience. I’ll be working with my colleagues in the House to get this important bill through the Congress and to the President’s desk.”

Some highlights of the bill include:

  • Sets a goal to reduce the rate of fatal aircraft accidents by 90 percent from 2019-2033 and eliminating fatal accidents of commercial aircraft in Alaska, Hawaii, and the territories of the United States by 2033.
  • Authorizes $25 million annually for the duration of the bill to ensure the program has the resources to achieve their mandate.
  • Requires the FAA Administrator to adopt NTSB Report recommendations for Alaska.
  • Designates the FAA Alaska Regional Administrator as the head of the initiative providing the region the authority and leadership to address Alaska’s needs.
  • Sets 2030 deadlines for the installation of certified weather technology (AWOS/VWOS).
  • Holds the FAA Administrator responsible for the reliability of certified weather systems in Alaska, and requires within two years a “weather system reliability and restoration plan for Alaska” to include telecommunications connection reliability and the available maintenance parts and staff.
  • Creates a process and requirement to deploy additional weather cameras, while requiring consultation with government and airspace users for deployment location.
  • Requires the FAA to ensure ADS-B aircraft tracking technology is available across Alaska above 5,000 feet by 2030.

The FAA reauthorization bill also:

  • Provides a special exception for Alaska to ensure aviation fuel (“avgas”) is available until 2032, forbidding the FAA or EPA from regulating this essential fuel source for Alaskan pilots.
  • Protects and authorizes funds to maintain full Essential Air Service operations for Alaska, so that communities not connected by road will have access to air transportation.
  • Ensures projects essential to Alaska receive Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding, including for runway resurfacing, runway lengthening, construction access for rural airports, snow removal equipment, fuel deliveries, and firefighting response.
  • Establishes a five-year, $350 million grant program to reimburse airports to replace firefighting equipment that utilizes PFAS, while also funding the disposal of PFAS chemicals.
  • The legislation also paves the way for Alaska to lead on unmanned aircraft system (UAS) testing, by building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ (UAF) Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI). The bill also reauthorizes the UAS test site program, expands ACUASI’s ability to build new UAS aircraft technologies, and expands the allowable UAS aircraft size for Arctic operations.