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FAA Reauthorization: Keeping Our Place as the World’s Aviation Leader | Commentary

The United States has been the international leader in aviation since the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903. Our aviation system has provided the model for the rest of the world over the past 112 years, and today, it is among the safest and most efficient. But competitors are all around us. If we stop innovating and investing in our aviation system, we will lose our leadership position.

As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee tackles reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, there is much work to do. Over the past three years, the committee has held hearings, convened roundtables and worked on a bipartisan basis to make major reforms to certification processes, modernization programs and unmanned aircraft systems initiatives. By putting in the work to get these changes done, we will cement our country’s continuing legacy as the worldwide aviation leader.

The force of globalization and the growth of emerging international markets present both opportunities and challenges for American aviation. We simply cannot write a reauthorization bill for 2015 without taking a look at what is happening elsewhere in the world. In 2013, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asked me to attend the Paris Air Show in his stead. That event made it crystal clear: The aviation industry is global, it is competitive and there are new entrants in the market every day. What happens in Shanghai, Dubai, New Delhi, Moscow and Buenos Aires matters here in the United States.

One way to advance our competitiveness is by improving the way we certify the safety of aircraft and aviation products. Today, FAA inspectors often do not have the technological expertise and training to address the rapid pace of technology development. This has delayed the timely approval of products that can improve safety, reduce emissions and increase the efficiency of our air system. In the upcoming aviation bill, I am hopeful we will implement solutions to move these technologies to the market more quickly.

Other countries are also getting ahead of the United States in developing and testing UAS in their airspace. UAS technology has enormous commercial potential, and the private sector is ready to invest. To the FAA’s credit, it is making progress to allow limited commercial operations, as well as testing and experimentation to ensure safe integration of UAS into the airspace. But I have heard from many companies that are frustrated with the pace of progress, and they are heading abroad to test and develop their UAS products. We should not lose this business to our international competitors. We need to continue to push the UAS integration process forward, while ensuring safety remains a top priority.

Another technology program that has faced hurdles is NextGen, an air traffic control modernization program. Some have called for a “reset” of NextGen, while others have characterized the program as a failure. But I think any discussion of the FAA’s performance must start with an acknowledgement of the agency’s accomplishments. Last Congress, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank A. LoBiondo, R-N.J., and I tasked the FAA with creating a road map for timely implementation of four near-term priorities for NextGen. With increased focus and hard work, the FAA is now implementing these foundational programs. Congressional oversight to ensure future NextGen programs are on time and on budget will be critical. I believe we can improve on that progress in the next bill.

All of these challenges require attention and specifically tailored solutions. They will not be resolved without bipartisan oversight and focused effort. That is why I am concerned about proposals to make changes to the air traffic system. If such proposals are going to move forward, they need to first answer the question: What are we trying to fix? We are living in the safest period in domestic aviation history, and our system has never been more efficient. Stakeholders point to many different problems — sequestration, inadequate NextGen progress, certification delays — but none clearly explain why restructuring our complicated air traffic control system in the next five months is guaranteed to solve any of those problems. I am concerned that a lack of consensus will hold up the reauthorization, and that any transition will set back all of the FAA’s progress.

It is clear our aviation system is experiencing a renaissance in terms of safety, economic stability and efficiency. If we get the next FAA bill right, everyone who flies will benefit. We will keep our aviation system the world’s best, and we will continue U.S. leadership in this critical sector of our economy.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee.

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