FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024: impact on aviation safety and public safety

May 22, 2024

President Biden signs FAA Reauthorization Act

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, President Joe Biden signed into law H.R. 3935, the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024”.

This legislation reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and related revenue authorities through September 30, 2028, and reauthorizes the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) through the same period.

President emphasized the bipartisan nature of the bill, highlighting its benefits for travelers, the aviation workforce, and the economy.

The Act aims to expand protections for air travelers, strengthen safety standards, and support key aviation professionals such as pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers.

Enhancements to passenger rights and safety standards

President Biden noted several significant enhancements in the Act, including affirming the Department of Transportation’s rule for automatic refunds when flights are canceled or significantly delayed.

This provision ensures passengers receive refunds without facing unnecessary hurdles.

Additionally, the Act mandates that families can sit together without incurring extra fees, addressing a common grievance among travelers.

The President stated: “Passengers shouldn’t have to jump through endless hoops just to get the refunds that they are owed, and corporations shouldn’t rip off hardworking Americans through hidden junk fees.” He thanked members of both parties for their collaboration over many months to achieve this long-term reauthorization.

Impact on public safety and drone operations

The FAA Reauthorization Act also has notable implications for public safety and drone operations.

As detailed by Droneresponders, the Act includes four specific items affecting public safety operations.

Firstly, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) rules are set to be completed in 20 months.

Secondly, the Act codifies the ability for public safety organizations to operate “actively tethered” drones without requiring a Certificate of Authorization (COA) or Part 107 certification, which previously restricted volunteer fire departments and similar organizations.

The Act also permits the use of actively tethered Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in zero-grid airspaces for emergency response, with prior notification to the FAA rather than prior authorization.

Additionally, Section 44806 introduces safety-oriented definitions to ensure the safe operation of actively tethered UAS in the event of propulsion, power, or tether loss scenarios.

Changes in drone weight limits

Another key change introduced by the FAA Reauthorization Act is the alteration of drone weight limits.

The previous limit of 4.4 pounds has been increased to “under 55 pounds”, significantly expanding the range of UAS that can be utilized for public safety and emergency response purposes.

This adjustment is expected to enhance the capabilities of public safety agencies, allowing them to deploy more advanced and capable drones in various scenarios.

These changes are anticipated to improve response times and effectiveness in emergency situations.

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