Videos & Speeches

I am pleased to be on the Senate floor as we begin the debate and discussion of legislation that I think is critical to certainly my home state of Kansas and important and valuable to the rest of the nation as well. Kansas is known as an aviation state. Wichita, Kansas, is known as the ‘Air Capital of the World,’ and one would expect a senator from Kansas to be especially supportive of things that improve the opportunity for aviation, and that is certainly true.

We care about the jobs that are in our state as a result of general aviation manufacturing, as a result of aviation manufacturing for large commercial airlines, and it matters. The FAA is an important component of our environment in our state as a driver of our state's economy. But I also want to point out that I am a strong supporter of general aviation and reauthorization of the FAA as a result of representing a very rural state.

Kansas is made up of a number of larger communities, but small cities and towns dot our state. Those local airports and the ability to connect with those communities as a result of general aviation – the ability to fly to visit somebody but perhaps more importantly the ability for a business to be in a community, a small rural community – exists in part because of those general aviation airports and those planes and pilots. So in communities across our state, we are able to have manufacturing and service industries that probably otherwise, in the absence of an airport and aviation, would have to be located in larger cities in Kansas or elsewhere.

GA and FAA reauthorization is important to every Kansan, regardless of whether they are a factory line worker or engineer in Wichita and south central Kansas or whether they are a hospital, a manufacturing business or a service located in a small community in our state.

I am pleased the Senate is beginning to do its work on the FAA reauthorization. I serve on the Committee on Commerce responsible for this product, and I am pleased the chairman and ranking member have worked closely together to get us to this point today in a bill that I hope – I assume subject to some amendments – I hope this bill then passes with strong support across both sides of the aisle.

This FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 will strengthen the industry by improving the FAA's process for certifying aircraft. Again, in that manufacturing sector in our state, one of the things that would be of great value is to have a process by which an improvement, a development, the manufacturing process, the product we manufacture is more readily and more quickly, more efficiently certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, making certain that those certifications allow those airplane manufacturers to compete in a global marketplace.

This bill also addresses the Pilot's Bill of Rights. I see I have been joined on the Senate floor by the senator from Oklahoma, the champion of this issue. We are pleased it is in this bill, and it reforms, among other things, the third-class medical certificate process for general aviation pilots – something that has been long overdue and something the senator from Oklahoma, Senator Inhofe, has championed and continues to champion. Just this week, he called me asking for assistance as we make certain that this bill advances and the House approves language that is included in this bill.

Another essential piece of this bill text, S. 2549, is the TSA Fairness Act. This is a bipartisan piece of legislation that was originally introduced by Senator Merkley and Senator Barrasso. The language provides protection for some of our small airports that have commercial air service. Generally, it is possible that air service is there, that small commercial airline flight is there because of the Essential Air Service Program, but in order for Essential Air Service to work and to meet the needs of a community and the traveling public, we need to make certain that the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, provides the necessary screeners and screening equipment that you would find in a larger airport.

We want to make certain our rural communities that have commercial service – often flying to Denver International Airport – are screened before they enter the plane to fly to DIA, and this legislation includes language that would enhance that circumstance.

I am also encouraged by the efforts in this bill to address the rapidly evolving circumstance we face with unmanned aerial vehicles. That industry is moving forward, again another Kansas industry that matters greatly. This legislation moves the ball forward for an environment where businesses, universities and countless others can tap into the potential and the vast economic benefits of UASs, while maintaining high safety standards that we would expect in the aviation world.

I know my colleagues remember – I remember well – the 23 short-term FAA reauthorizations that have occurred leading up to the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill. It is hugely detrimental to our aviation system to have to tolerate, to have to figure out how to abide by these short-term extensions that eliminate the opportunity for any long-term planning and create great uncertainty. I am pleased we are headed down the path of a longer term, FAA, more permanent reauthorization act represented by this legislation, this Act of 2016.

I would ask my colleagues to work, all of us together, to make sure the end product is something we can be proud of. We certainly start in a position in which that’s the case.

Again, I commend Senator Thune, the senator from South Dakota, for his leadership in working with the senator from Florida, Senator Nelson, getting us to this point today. This is an important piece of legislation for our country, its economy, for our citizens, and certainly matters greatly to the folks back home in Kansas.

Mr. President, I yield the floor to the senator from Oklahoma.