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Key Lawmaker Discusses New Tech and FAA Reauthorization

Rep. Garret Graves (R-6-LA), chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee on Transportation.

The Baton Rouge, LA, native has been a leader on transportation and infrastructure issues, promoting projects that will facilitate next-generation technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM).

He supports private and public sector investments that fuel job creation and economic growth to help maintain the U.S. position as a global leader in aviation.

Graves was first elected to represent his South Louisiana district in 2014.
Bringing his experience in disaster response, conservation, environmental and energy issues, Graves also serves on the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee and the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee.

On Twitter @RepGarretGraves

Q: With this year’s FAA reauthorization, what solutions are under consideration to help prevent incidents like the NOTAM system outage and serious runway incursions?

First and most importantly, the U.S. has the safest aviation industry in the world, and that’s something we have to maintain. It has to remain paramount.

Regarding solutions, I think that you’ve got to look at NextGen and technological solutions that in many cases have been on the books not just for years, but for decades. What we’re seeing in many cases is technological solutions that were great ideas 10 to 15 years ago, but are effectively obsolete today. So clearly, you’ve got an acquisition problem that is causing extraordinary delays. And we’ve got to address those in this bill, to where we’re implementing technological solutions that are actually relevant and are being done quickly.

The first bill is actually going to have a general aviation title in the legislation. That’s part of what we’re doing to raise the posture of general aviation and business aviation.

Q: What should Congress do to further support development of drones – aka unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – as a valuable business aviation resource?

If you’re going to certificate one [Boeing] 737 a month, that’s fine, we’re ready. If you’re going to try and certificate 5,000 drones a week, you’re in big trouble. From an organizational perspective or a structural perspective, from a regulatory perspective and from a human resources perspective, the FAA is not ready for that.

In addition to being the gold standard for aviation safety, the U.S. has largely been the technological leader – a laboratory for new technology. And if we’re not capable of having a regulatory structure that actually facilitates a new technology, then we’re going to lose it to other countries. We’re looking at organizational restructuring. And going beyond what the FAA proposed last year, we’re looking at making regulatory changes in this legislation. We’re looking at maybe stepping in and addressing more aggressively things like UAS Remote ID and BVLOS [beyond visual line of sight] – some of the many challenges that will allow these technologies to move forward safely. As a result of temporary leadership and [Boeing] 737 Max issues – while we certainly need to apply lessons learned – the FAA has become too risk-averse. And that’s actually holding up new technologies. It’s not in America’s interest to be doing this.

Q: Regarding advanced air mobility (AAM) aircraft powered by zero-emissions fuel sources like lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen, how deep should Congress dive into fostering development of alternative fuels?

I don’t think government has a good track record of picking winners and losers. It’s important that government doesn’t come in and say everything’s going in one direction. What the government needs to do is let innovators innovate – let them do what they do best.

The reality is, we need to be rewarding lower emissions and greater efficiency, or better ultimate performance or convenience for consumers. The government does have a role in helping devise the right type of technology regarding greater efficiency, greater convenience for things like eVTOLs [electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft]. But if we force folks in a direction to use only lithium-ion batteries when China’s got the market cornered for critical minerals for those technologies, that’s not in America’s interest.

Q: What, if anything, should Congress do to ensure that safe and effective AAM infrastructure is developed in concert with the aircraft themselves?

Last year, we passed the AAM Coordination and Leadership Act with Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-3-KS). This goes well beyond the FAA to other agencies and regulations in terms of how to facilitate and be more dynamic or agile about AAM.

We also passed the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act, which involves how vertiports integrate with other modes of transportation and infrastructure.

Also, we should be thinking about AAM integration into the NAS and pilot qualifications for eVTOLs or other AAM technology, and how that differs from current pilot requirements.

We’ve taken a big step forward in the bills we’ve passed, but this also forces folks to begin thinking over the horizon a little bit – thinking about how to facilitate new entrants into the market without allowing our government to put up obstacles.

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