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Thune: FAA Reauthorization Bill Is a Win for South Dakota

“[N]o bill is perfect, but I believe that the legislation before us today will make real progress toward a safer and more reliable aviation system, and an improved flying experience for the American public.”

May 8, 2024

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor about the upcoming passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. The package includes several Thune-led provisions, including an amendment to address the national pilot shortage, legislation to increase competitiveness for American drones, and legislation to improve the flying experience for those who use mobility aids.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, this week the Senate is finally considering the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act.

“And I am glad we are here – even if belatedly.

“Our nation depends on a safe, efficient, and robust national aviation system.

“And the bill before us today will help strengthen aviation safety, address the pilot shortage, and improve airport infrastructure – all of which will contribute to a better experience for the traveling public.

“I am particularly pleased that my proposal to create an enhanced qualification program for prospective airline pilots was included in the bill.

“The United States is facing a serious pilot shortage, which has resulted in reduced air service at airports around the country.

“This has real impacts on the flying public, particularly for those in rural states like South Dakota, since smaller, regional airports have tended to see the greatest reduction in flights.

“To help address this shortage – and improve the quality of pilot training – Senator Sinema and I introduced a proposal to create an enhanced qualification program for prospective airline pilots.

“Our proposal was a direct response to a recommendation from the Air Carrier Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee – a body of industry, labor, and safety representatives who meet regularly under the auspices of the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety – which recommended the implementation of such a program to create a structured pathway for pilots to obtain intensive training.

“While the United States has stringent requirements for the number of flight hours prospective airline pilots must complete before obtaining their pilot’s license, the quality of that cockpit time is often less-than-optimal preparation for flying commercial jets.

“And so to better prepare pilots for airline jobs, our proposal will implement an enhanced qualification program, designed and audited by the FAA and administered by air carriers, that will give aspiring airline pilots intensive training with experienced air carrier pilots and other experts.

“Intensive training in the kind of air carrier environment where prospective airline pilots will be flying is something that is largely missing from current training.

“And getting the chance to work closely with seasoned pilots will help turn out highly qualified pilots who are better prepared for flying commercial jets.

“In addition, our program’s use of simulator training – whose proven value has resulted in its extensive use by the military – will give prospective airline pilots exposure to the cockpits of the jets they will be flying and, crucially, allow them to experience what it’s like to handle challenging and dangerous situations in those cockpits.

“For obvious reasons, standard flight training hours don’t involve deliberately flying into perilous weather conditions or dealing with things like fires or engine failure.

“But simulator training offers prospective airline pilots the chance to deal with all those situations, and more – and deal with them again and again until their response to these situations is fine-tuned.

“Mr. President, our proposal is a win-win.

“It will turn out better-prepared pilots, and it will help address the pilot shortage by making training more accessible.

“And I am very pleased that it was included in the bill before us today.

“I am also very pleased that Senator Klobuchar’s Aviation Workforce Development and Recruitment Act, which I cosponsored, was included in the bill.

“This measure will help address workforce challenges across the aviation industry by expanding resources to help recruit and train pilots, aviation manufacturing workers, and mechanics.

“And finally, with rural air service once again in mind, I am very pleased that my provision to allow communities to receive multiple Small Community Air Service Development Program grants for the same project was included in the legislation before us today.

“This will help make it easier to expand sorely needed air service for rural communities.

“The bill also includes language providing small airports with more flexibility to use AIP funding for terminal improvements, which will be crucial for enabling rural airports to expand access as construction costs rise.

“Mr. President, on another topic, the legislation before us today includes my bipartisan Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act with Senator Warner, which will streamline the approval process for beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone flights and clear the way for drones to be used for commercial transport of goods across the country.

“The wider deployment of drones has the potential to transform the economy, with innovative opportunities for transportation and agriculture that would benefit rural states like South Dakota.

“And my bill will help ensure that the United States remains competitive in a growing industry increasingly dominated by competitors like China.

“I’m also pleased that legislation I cosponsored with Senator Duckworth to help improve the flying experience for individuals who use mobility aids was included in the final legislation we’re considering.

“Mr. President, no bill is perfect, but I believe that the legislation before us today will make real progress toward a safer and more reliable aviation system, and an improved flying experience for the American public.

“And I am grateful to all those who contributed to getting this bill to the floor today.

“As a former chairman of the Commerce Committee, I know how much work goes into the process of drafting and moving an FAA reauthorization bill, and I want to thank the chair and ranking member and all of their staff.

“I particularly want to thank Ranking Member Ted Cruz for his tireless efforts, both in getting this bill to the finish line and in ensuring that we ended up with a strong piece of legislation.

“His work to ensure that we have strong staffing mandates for air traffic controllers, as well as his efforts to reduce backlogs and improve the FAA’s efficiency, deserves particular recognition.

“I also want to thank Senators Moran and Duckworth for their leadership at the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation.

“Mr. President, as I said, final passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act has been a long time coming.

“But the day is finally here.

“And I look forward to seeing this bill enacted into law in the very near future.

“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”