Washington Report, Nov-Dec 2022
Congress Eyes AAM Directive to FAA
Momentum is building on Capitol Hill to provide the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with directives on how to regulate the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry. In a discussion at the Honeywell Air Mobility Summit in Washington on Sept. 21, leading members of the subcommittee on aviation in the House of Representatives said that Congress could include specific guidelines to the FAA regarding AAM initiatives in its next reauthorization bill for the agency, work on which is expected in the 2023 calendar year.
“We need to start putting some basic building blocks into the FAA’s thinking and what other agencies are thinking about H AAM integration,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington), chairman of the aviation subcommittee. Rep. Garrett Graves (R-Louisiana), the ranking member, added: “We need to make sure that we are very thoughtful and deliberate about what it is that we’re asking them to do.”
The Senate is likewise setting AAM as a priority for next year’s FAA reauthorization bill. On Sept. 26, the Senate Commerce Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing on new entrants to aviation, including electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and other AAM vehicles. It was the first Senate hearing on the planned FAA legislation. In a statement, committee chair Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) stressed the central role that Congress is expected to play in guiding the incorporation of these technologies.
Biden Signs AAM Act into Law
On Oct. 17, President Biden signed into law the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act. The bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill S.516, directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish an interagency working group to identify the elements needed to mature the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry. The new law represents a milestone in the federal government’s efforts to act on emerging AAM concepts and technologies such as electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
The new law requires the working group to complete its review and submit a report on the steps ahead within one year. The report should detail a variety of elements to further AAM in the US, including the needed regulatory and operational frameworks, relevant federal programs, and the interests and roles of federal, state, local and tribal governments affected by AAM operations, among other areas. This report should form the basis of an AAM National Strategy, which will include recommendations for actions to support AAM.
The law is the product of more than a year of work on AAM legislation. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) introduced the bill on March 1, 2021, shortly after a similar bill — H.R.1339 — was introduced in the US House of Representatives (see “Washington Report,” Vertiflite, May/ June 2021). The House version was introduced by Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) and included a bipartisan group of cosponsors.
Though virtually identical, the two draft bills contained minor technical and wording differences — the House version specified that the Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy would chair the working group, a requirement that the Senate adopted in its final version of the bill. The Senate version, meanwhile, emphasized that the report should form the basis of an “AAM National Strategy,” which was likewise included in the final version.
The House passed its version of the bill in November 2021. The Senate version passed out of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Dec. 17, 2021. It passed the full Senate on March 23, 2022, before receiving support in a House vote on June 14. In September, the Senate and House resolved the differences between the two bills. Mike Hirschberg, VFS Executive Director, noted that this followed on the work of members of the informal Air Mobility Council, founded by VFS in September 2019 to coordinate the activities of nearly a dozen membership associations supporting AAM (see “White House Supports eVTOL,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2019, and “VFS Applauds White House Support of eVTOL,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2020).
“This is a fantastic step forward. AAM had very little visibility in Congress before this,” said Hirschberg. “VFS and our members identified the ignorance of AAM across much of the federal government and the lack of cross-agency coordination as key deficiencies three years ago. Working together, our corporate members and sister organizations have made this a growing priority in both the executive and legislative branches of the US federal government.”
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and Helicopter Association International (HAI), also released statements praising the new law.
The passage and signing of the AAM Coordination and Leadership Act comes amid increasing momentum in Congress surrounding AAM issues. On June 14, the House passed the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act (HR 6270), which would provide grants to state and tribal jurisdictions to develop plans for AAM infrastructure. Later that month, more than 20 members of Congress joined to launch the Advanced Air Mobility Caucus to educate and advocate for next-generation aviation technologies. The House Caucus co-chairs are Representatives Jay Obernolte (R-8-CA) and Jimmy Panetta (D-20-CA).
The bipartisan support behind the AAM Coordination and Leadership Act suggests that it is unlikely to be the last action Congress takes to engage the emerging AAM ecosystem.