February 06, 2012

Passage of FAA Bill Will Improve Commercial Air Service, Protect Crater Lake and Increase UAV Testing Sites

Washington, D.C. – With the Senate passage of the long-held up Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill today, Oregon and its western neighbors are poised to see many economic and environmental benefits. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that among the many provisions in the FAA bill are some that will improve commercial air travel in the Pacific Northwest, protect Crater Lake from noisy helicopter flyovers, improve opportunities for the development of the unmanned aerial vehicle industry, provide certainty to air park residents in Independence, and increase recycling efforts at the nation’s airports.

The Senate originally passed an FAA reauthorization bill in February of 2011. However, differences between the Senate and House versions forced a conference committee to rectify the differences. The conference committee’s version of the bill was passed by the House last week and the Senate this evening, sending the legislation to the President for signature.

“Though it took nearly a year to reach an agreement, the FAA bill passed by the House and Senate maintained many of the provisions important to Oregon,” Wyden said. “The door is now open for more flights between western cities like Portland and Washington, D.C. giving the Pacific Northwest another connection to the East Coast that could boost economic development in the region. Oregon’s UAV manufacturing industry could see more accessible testing areas for the drones they create and the peace and tranquility of Crater Lake will remain without the droning of helicopter fly-over tours.”

The FAA reauthorization bill will add up to 16 new daily roundtrip flights between Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and destinations beyond 1250 miles away. Though direct flights to Portland International Airport are not mentioned by name in the legislation, this provision could increase flights to PDX as soon as 95 days after the bill is implemented.

The National Park Service will now be given the ability to deny air tours over Crater Lake National Park without having to first prepare an air tour management plan – a bureaucratic hurdle that wastes park resources and is not required at any other national park in the country. Wyden has worked to end these tours for years, and has received commitment from Director Jon Jarvis of the National Park Service that he will “protect the fragile beauty” of Crater Lake.

Oregon is home to an innovative aviation industry with strong interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). While this technology has been primarily utilized for defense purposes, it is believed that they could play a significant role in search and rescue as well as law enforcement operations domestically. These uses need to be tested and provisions in the FAA bill pushed by Wyden will increase the number of testing sites for these UAV uses from four to six.

The bill also includes language that protects air enthusiasts in Independence as well as at airports in Scapoose, Aurora and Creswell, Oregon.  Pilots who had “through the fence” agreements with local airports and drove their planes onto neighboring airways will be allowed to continue with these agreements in the future, providing certainty to hundreds of Oregonians who have 40 years of safe and responsible history with nearby airports.      

Finally, the bill includes a Wyden-authored provision to require that all airport master plans developed with the federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding include the development of a serious recycling plan. Studies have shown that some 95 percent of all airline and airport trash can be either recycled or composted. Doing so could save airlines and airports money and improve their environmental sustainability.