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Markup Opening Statement: Larsen Concerned Bipartisan FAA Reforms Will Stall Because Of ATC Privatization

Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, the Ranking Member of the Aviation Subcommittee, delivered the following statement at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Markup of H.R. 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016. The remarks are as prepared for delivery.

Watch Larsen’s opening remarks here.

Good morning. Before I get into my statement, I would like to echo what I said at yesterday’s hearing.

This FAA reauthorization bill largely reflects the result of bipartisan hard work and compromise, and I thank Chairman Shuster and Chairman LoBiondo for working with Ranking Member DeFazio, myself, and other Democratic members on this Committee. 

This bill contains much needed certification reforms, direction to speed up the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and a long-term authorization of programs and funding.

And the bill could be a slam dunk.  However, because of the proposal to privatize the air traffic control (ATC) system, I believe we are going to miss an opportunity to act swiftly and advance a long-term aviation bill.

There are much needed reforms in this bill that are ready to go, and at this stage, I am concerned these bipartisan policy proposals are going to stall because of efforts to spin off ATC.

It’s certainly all of our responsibility to do what is best for our national aviation system.

Unfortunately, with ATC privatization, we are falling short of that.  

Before I offer some additional thoughts on privatization, I would like to mention a few safety concerns.  

Safety.  I am concerned that the bill prevents FAA from advancing rules to protect the flying public from the well-known risks of transporting lithium batteries by air.  I am also concerned about eliminating the longstanding requirements for general aviation pilots to obtain a medical fitness certification before flying. 

I would like to see the committee address these issues today.

While there are a few changes we should make to the bill’s safety provisions, I can say I am pleased with reforms in two key areas – certification and UAS.

Certification.  This bill contains far-reaching reforms to streamline the FAA certification process that will help U.S. manufacturers become more competitive and create jobs.  The reforms reflect a consensus between industry and government stakeholders, designed to save time, make products safer and get them to market quicker.

I am confident these changes will help domestic aviation aircraft and avionics manufacturers compete on the international stage.

As for unmanned aircraft, the bill makes significant and exciting changes to speed up the integration of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace.

The bill directs the FAA to hold safety paramount – by increasing educational and outreach efforts to UAS operators, encouraging enforcement of unsafe and unauthorized operations, and establishing a pilot program to detect and employ measures to neutralize unsafe UAS. 

The bill also creates a new risk-based permitting program that will dramatically increase the safe pace of UAS integration.

Changes in this bill will help safely integrate UAS while enabling our country to keep its place as a global leader in aviation and aerospace technology.

ATC Privatization.  But I must emphasize again are my concerns regarding efforts to privatize our ATC system.

I don’t think experimenting with the most complex airspace in the world comes without a lot of risk.

As you heard me say yesterday, the Department of Defense plays a critical role in protecting our nation, and that’s just not a role I am comfortable relegating primarily to a private corporation.

I believe we are just scratching the surface when it comes to identifying operational issues involving the DOD. So stay tuned.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the bipartisan efforts of Chairman Shuster, Chairman LoBiondo, and Ranking Member DeFazio. But the privatization effort still causes me a lot of concern.

I look forward to the mark up today.

I look forward to working toward an agreement where we can move forward the positive and critical bipartisan reforms we have reached without having them weighed down by differences over ATC reform.

Thank you, and I yield back.