The FAA’s long-term operating authority expired in 2007 and has since had to limp along under short-term extensions and was even partially shut down for a time. But on Tuesday, February 1, 2012, an agreement was finally reached in Congress to approve $63 billion for the FAA through 2015.
Key portions of the bill include:
- Funding authority for FAA’s Next Generation air traffic modernization program, which would update the air traffic control’s systems to GPS technology
- Tightened subsidies for the Essential Air Service (a program which subsidizes air service to rural communities)
- Eight daily slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport opened up for longer distance flights (which might possibly have been a selling point for some lawmakers looking for a “what’s in it for me” benefit)
- A requirement that the Department of Transportation follow the same safety standards for the shipment of lithium batteries by air as those set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency
- Requirements that the FAA provide military, commercial and privately-owned drones with expanded access to U.S. airspace currently reserved for manned aircraft
As of yesterday, Monday, February 6, 2012, the bill received final congressional approval and will now go to President Barack Obama for his signature.