US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Bipartisan Aviation Bill Reaches New Heights

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressBipartisan Aviation Bill Reaches New Heights
By Sen. John Thune

Passing bills through the U.S. Senate is not an easy task, especially bills that include sweeping reforms that would impact a large portion of the American people. That’s why I was particularly pleased that 95 of my colleagues – nearly every U.S. senator – recently voted to approve my bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act and send it to the House of Representatives, which gets it one step closer to the president’s desk. While passing bills might be difficult, making the case for getting this bill across the finish line and signed into law is pretty straightforward.

First, it’s good government. Congress should get back in the business of reauthorizing federal programs and agencies, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here. Our oversight role is an important one, and it can’t be overlooked. The Republican-led Senate has made it a priority to get back to the basics and do the work the American people expect us to do. Until Republicans took the majority in January 2015, the committee process had essentially ground to a halt. Today, we’re moving bills through committees and onto the Senate floor where they can be debated and amended.

Take the Commerce Committee for example. I’ve chaired this key committee for just over a year, but we’ve already tackled some pretty monumental items. We helped pass the first long-term transportation bill in nearly a decade, made first-of-their-kind reforms to the Surface Transportation Board, passed legislation that will help develop the next generation of wireless broadband, and now we’ve ushered through what has been described as “one of the most passenger-friendly FAA reauthorization bills in a generation.”

Which brings me to another important reason this bill should be considered in the House without delay: the numerous provisions we included that would make the customer experience easier. As a frequent traveler – I fly to and from my home in South Dakota nearly every week – the headaches of air travel are well-known. My bill makes some pretty common-sense changes that would require airlines to return certain fees when services aren’t rendered, like when your luggage is lost or delayed. The bill also requires airlines to make seat availability clear at the time of booking, which would be a big advantage for families who travel with small children.

Not only do we try to make air travel a little easier, but we make it safer too. It’s unfortunate, but in today’s world, terrorists will try to do anything to cause harm, and we must do everything within our power to stay one step ahead. My bill tightens the vetting process for airport workers who have access to secure areas, like the gate agents who double as baggage handlers at small airports throughout the country. As I’ve said before, a vast majority of these people are hard-working, dedicated employees, but we must take every necessary precaution.

South Dakota’s general aviation community was a priority in this bill too, which is why I included a key safety provision requiring small towers, like those that line the South Dakota landscape, to be properly and safely marked so agriculture applicators and other pilots who typically operate at low altitude can clearly identify them. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 was also included in my bill, which means the regulatory burden faced by many recreational pilots will be reduced without compromising safety.  My bill also directs important advances in drone safety to protect the flying public while still fostering opportunity for innovative new uses, such as in agriculture.

As I mentioned at the outset, it’s not easy to do big things in the Senate. But that is the job I signed up to do on behalf of the people of South Dakota. This bill and the process through which we operated prove that by working hard and building a consensus around an important issue, we can get the big things done.

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