Improved Commercial Air Service, Crater Lake Protections and UAV Testing Sites Included in FAA Bill

Washington, D.C. – With the Senate passage of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill late last night, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced several provisions that will benefit Oregon, including improved commercial air service between western states and Washington, D.C., protecting Crater Lake from air tour flyovers, increasing testing sites for civilian uses of unmanned aerial vehicles and a Wyden-authored measure to improve recycling at airports.

“This means that the skies above Oregon will be open for business, but not at the expense of one of the nation’s treasured national parks,” Wyden said. “After lengthy and difficult negotiations, the door is now open for much-needed improved commercial air service between western cities and Washington, D.C.,  more accessible testing areas for drones  manufactured right here in Oregon and elsewhere and a ban on air tours over Crater Lake National Park. ”

The FAA reauthorization bill will add up to 16 new daily roundtrip flights between Reagan National Airport and destinations beyond 1,250 miles away. While not mentioning Portland International Airport by name, this provision could increase access to airports such as PDX, possibly within 95 days after the bill becomes law, to serve business travelers, tourists and those needing to make more convenient connections to other eastern destinations.

The bill also gives the National Park Service the ability to deny air tours over Crater Lake National Park without first having to prepare an air tour management plan, as is the case with every other National Park. The amendment also clearly defines the role that the National Park Service plays in protecting National Park resources and values, while reasserting the FAA’s authority over America’s airspace. Wyden has worked to end these tours for two years and received a commitment from then-nominee for Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, to “protect the fragile beauty” of Crater Lake.

Wyden was also successful in pushing for an increase in the number of testing sites for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Wyden’s effort would increase the number of testing areas from four to six, adding to the chances that a proposed testing area in Central Oregon would be included. The civilian uses for UAVs include combating drug trafficking over federal lands, aiding in search and rescue operations, firefighting and improving border security.

Finally, the FAA bill also included a provision to require that all airport master plans developed with federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding include the development of a solid waste recycling and minimization plan, if feasible, as a mandatory planning element.

The Senate-passed bill still needs to be reconciled with the House version before going to the President.