Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Airline Bumping Protection, Easier Drone Permits Aim of Bill

  • Proposal to overhaul aviation policy unveiled by committee
  • Legislation would set aviation policy for next six years

A sweeping House plan to set aviation policy for the next six years would add protections for airline passengers bumped from flights, speed introduction of commercial drones and make it easier to certify new aircraft.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would prohibit passengers from being removed from a flight after they’ve boarded. The legislation also revives a proposal to remove the U.S. air-traffic system from government control that failed a year ago, Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said at a briefing.

Airlines took a beating in public opinion after a doctor was removed from a United Airlines flight on the ground in Chicago on April 9 after the airline needed the spot for a flight crew. The legislation would also direct the Department of Transportation to write clearer rules about how travelers who are bumped must be compensated.

The House legislation would also include a requirement for airlines disrupted by computer outages to post resources for stranded passengers online, including hotel accommodations and meal vouchers, according to a summary of the bill. It would make it easier for people to file consumer complaints against airlines using smartphones, require commercial airports to provide private rooms for nursing mothers, and ban voice telephone calls on flights, according to the summary.

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Several measures in the bill would attempt to prod the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of drone operations to bolster that rapidly growing industry, Shuster said.

“We’re going to lose this industry if we don’t have an FAA that’s getting these things out there in a timely manner,” he said.

The legislation would press for swifter development of a new, low-altitude air-traffic system for small drones, create a faster approval process for commercial operators and develop a new certification system for small-drone commercial operators.

Reacting to concerns of aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing Co., the House bill includes several measures designed to speed the process of FAA approvals and regulation of new planes, aircraft parts and commercial operators, according to the summary.

It would allow companies to broaden the use of their own employees to sign off on new designs, attempts to speed approvals of U.S. aircraft by other countries and creates an advisory committee to monitor the FAA.

“The FAA bureaucracy and red tape in the certification of aviation technologies not only stifle domestic innovation and undermine our competitiveness, they put American jobs at risk,” the bill’s summary said.

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Shuster also announced his new plan to remove the government-run FAA air-traffic system and place it under a private, nonprofit corporation.

“This is about saving the taxpayers money,” Shuster said. “It’s about putting the traveling public ahead of the dysfunction here in Washington, D.C.”

In an attempt to address concerns of critics, the plan would reduce representation on the corporation’s board for airline-appointed members to three out of 13. In legislation last year, Shuster had proposed giving airlines the opportunity to appoint four members.

The proposal would also exempt from new fees all private and charter flights. While the legislation wouldn’t set fees, it would give the new corporation authority to raise money to cover its expenses through fees. Groups representing private flights had objected to new charges.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over taxation, must weigh in on how existing fuel and airline ticket taxes are handled if the law moves forward.

Senate Opposition

The announcement of the House plan comes as supporters of a privately run air-traffic arrangement suffered a setback in the Senate. Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters Tuesday his committee won’t take up the measure as it drafts its own legislation setting aviation policy.

Putting the U.S. air-traffic system under a nonprofit corporation is designed to cut it off from the uncertainties of the congressional budget process and to streamline the introduction of technologies to guide planes more efficiently. It received a boost when President Donald Trump endorsed it and made it a central part of his plan to repair U.S. infrastructure.

However, it has faced opposition from private-plane operators and rural airport representatives, who argue that the corporation would be dominated by the airlines. They also object to the user fee that would pay for the system, replacing the current taxes on aviation fuel and airline tickets. Most Democrats and a handful of powerful Republicans say they won’t vote for the plan.

Thune has said that he doesn’t think the measure could win a majority in the Senate.

Shuster originally introduced his plan last year. It was never voted on by the full House.

The current law setting FAA policy and authorizing the agency expires Sept. 30.

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