IAFC issues guidance on FAA Reauthorization Act for fire chiefs

June 24, 2024

FAA Reauthorization Act: Key provisions impacting wildfire suppression

On May 16, President Biden signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024 (H.R. 3935) into law.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has published advice on how the new provisions will impact fire services.

As reported by the IAFC, the act reauthorizes both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) through September 2028 and includes several key measures for fire services.

Within 18 months, the FAA Administrator must issue a rule allowing firefighters to be carried on firefighting aircraft during wildfire suppression operations.

This rule will enable fire departments to transport firefighters and engage in suppression efforts within the same mission, improving response efficiency.

The act also mandates biannual progress reports on the national transition to fluorine-free firefighting foam, starting six months after the act’s passage.

The FAA, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense, will provide these reports to Congress.

PFAS resources and UAS use in wildfire response

The FAA is tasked with creating a PFAS replacement program within 90 days of the act’s passage.

This program, in consultation with the EPA, will receive up to $350 million to reimburse airports for purchasing approved fluorine-free firefighting agents and disposing of previously used foams.

Reimbursements will also cover necessary replacements of aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment.

Within 18 months, the FAA Administrator, in coordination with the United States Forest Service and other agencies, must develop a plan for using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in wildfire response.

This plan will include recommendations for identifying high-risk wildfire areas, facilitating safe and efficient UAS operations, and improving coordination between federal agencies and public safety entities.

Public safety use of tethered UASs

The new law includes provisions for the public safety use of tethered UASs.

Language and technical edits expand the definition of “Public” under the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, allowing public safety organizations to operate tethered drones without a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107).

These provisions enable the use of tethered UASs in zero-grid spaces, enhancing first responders’ capabilities even around airports.

The IAFC expressed gratitude to key legislators for their work on this bill.

“This law improves the safety and capacity of our nation’s first responders,” said the IAFC.

The Association will continue efforts to strengthen the capabilities of its members to conduct life-saving operations safely and effectively.

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