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Senate commerce committee moves FAA reauthorization bill

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led by Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), passed the FAA reauthorization with a host of amendments that address operations across the entire aviation system, from commercial air travel to general aviation.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Moving the bill forward is a crucial and long-awaited step toward securing long-term funding for the FAA, and movement on efforts related to modernization, employment, and safety. This was the committee’s second attempt at advancing the legislation, having failed to do so in June 2023.

About 80 amendments were bundled and approved by voice vote. Unfortunately, one of those amendments, offered by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), struck portions of the bill that would have required public-use airports to charge fair and reasonable parking fees and make them transparent.

Fischer’s amendment would instead initiate a Government Accountability Office study on airport parking fee transparency. In Washington, D.C., a “study” is called a punt or a "kick the can down the road" solution, which is why, in part, Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) offered an amendment to essentially reinstate the intent of the original text.

“As a general aviation pilot, I’ve seen and heard from aviators who have experienced sky-high charges for airport services that they don’t need. Affordable services should be available to small planes as well. My amendment increases access for more pilots at taxpayer-supported airports, and I hope it will be included in the conference negotiations,” said Budd, a member of the commerce committee.

AOPA and more than 600 active pilot organizations from across the country rallied behind Budd’s amendment, but the committee did not consider it due mainly to a misinformation campaign led by airport and FBO interests in Washington, D.C. Regrettably, airports and businesses on public-use airports will continue to charge pilots outrageous fees without consequence, like we are seeing at the upcoming Super Bowl.

The Budd amendment was critically important to pilot organizations as it addressed concerning issues with large chain FBOs that are charging exorbitant and egregious fees to pilots for parking, facility use, or unrequested services.

Thousands of pilots from across the United States have reached out to AOPA when encountering egregious and hidden fees. From hundreds of dollars to drop off a passenger to thousands of dollars for “special event fees,” there is a troubling trend. One flight instructor detailed a charge of $80 for a 10-minute restroom break.

Without proper oversight from the FAA to enforce current rules prohibiting unfair and unreasonable airport fees—such as $3,000 up to $15,000 “special event fees” on top of already high fees being charged by large chain businesses operating on public-use airports— this problem will only grow and will be detrimental to GA.

Budd remains committed to continuing to work to find a solution for these high fees at taxpayer-funded, public-use airports as this legislation moves forward.

“AOPA is grateful for the tireless work that Senators Cantwell and Cruz have put forth to ensure this bill will allow the FAA to continue to keep our airspace the safest in the world,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. "We also remain very supportive of Senator Budd’s efforts to fight for fair, reasonable, and transparent fees at our nation’s taxpayer-supported airports. We are seeing these public-use airports being privatized right in front of us and the federal government is just letting it happen. Our aviation system only works when we work together. These pricing models and continued consolidation by some large chain FBOs are shortsighted and will drive folks away from aviation. We’ll keep fighting for what is right so everyone can enjoy the freedom to fly.”

It is unclear when the full Senate will take up the bill. The House passed its FAA reauthorization bill in a bipartisan and overwhelming 351-69 vote in July.

Lillian Geil

Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Capitol Hill, FAA Funding

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