Helping Aviation Reach New Heights
By Sen. John Thune
Thune (second from right) joined President Donald Trump, members of his administration, and other congressional leaders on October 5, 2018, for the signing of the five-year FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (official White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian).
In 2017, 965 million passengers boarded flights that took off from or landed in the United States, and chances are you might have been one of them. Whether it’s because of your job, the annual family vacation, or a trip home for the holidays, we all rely on the aviation industry in one way or another. It not only supports more than 10 million American jobs, contributes trillions of dollars to the economy, and gets millions of people to their intended destinations, it also helps get us a product we’ve purchased, or even a letter we’ve sent, from one location to another as quickly and as safely as possible.
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the executive branch of the federal government and is tasked with ensuring the safety of civil aviation and monitoring its operational needs, Congress plays an important role in confirming its leadership, authorizing and appropriating operating funds, and conducting important oversight to ensure it’s serving the flying public as effectively and, again, as safely as it possibly can.
Part of that congressional responsibility requires us to pass a bill to reauthorize the FAA and related programs every few years, which essentially gives us the chance to review how things are going both within the agency and with aviation stakeholders and make any necessary reforms or modifications that might be required. We recently passed and the president signed our latest aviation bill, which was overwhelmingly approved on a bipartisan basis, and it was the longest reauthorization since the early 1980s.
This new law promotes economic growth, enhances transportation safety and security, and improves the flying experience for the traveling public, areas we can all agree are important to the industry and the flying public.
Specifically, the law reauthorizes the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which is responsible for allocating funding for capital improvements at airports large and small in South Dakota and across the country. These investments in local facilities help ensure the infrastructure on the ground is both modernized and safe. In some cities, access to commercial aviation is integral to the economic development of a community, and AIP funding is one component to an airport’s overall development.
The law also reauthorizes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the first time ever. It establishes a five-year term for its administrator to ensure stability and consistency at the agency, expands ways to deploy more canine security teams and new security technologies at airports across the country, and enables smaller airports like those in South Dakota to employ enough law enforcement officers at security checkpoints.
For frequent travelers or those who just want to get through TSA checkpoint lines a little faster, the new law requires the TSA to expand PreCheck program enrollment opportunities by establishing start-to-finish online or mobile enrollment options. For air travelers who live in rural states like South Dakota that have an extremely limited number of enrollment centers, this will be especially welcome news.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees the FAA and TSA, among many other federal agencies, I led the way to ensure this pro-passenger, pro-safety aviation bill made it to the president’s desk before existing authority expired, and I was in the Oval Office with President Trump when he signed it into law.
With the FAA reauthorization bill now law, it means the Commerce Committee, during my time as chairman, has authorized or reauthorized federal agencies that cover virtually every mode of transportation in the United States. That’s no easy feat, but it does highlight the importance of our committee’s work and the bipartisan approach we’ve taken to get things done, and it’s something I’m proud we’ve been able to achieve over the years.