Senate OKs Heller’s drone, other provisions in FAA bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a long-awaited Federal Aviation Administration bill that includes provisions by Sen. Dean Heller on creating a program for package-carrying drones and giving the state’s testing sites additional flexibility to partner with industry on emerging technologies.

“The FAA bill contains many priorities benefiting our state,” the Nevada Republican said.

One of Heller’s provisions on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) directs the Department of Transportation to establish a streamlined air carrier certification program tailored for those carrying packages.

He also singled out provisions that he expects to help Nevada expand travel and tourism, improve security and provide veterans additional employment opportunities.

He pointed out Nevada’s testing sites at Reno-Stead Airport, Fallon Municipal Airport, Nellis Air Force Base and the Boulder City Municipal Airport make up one of the FAA’s six UAS research and testing areas in the country, adding extending their authorization from 18 months to five years under the legislation will be important to keeping them in a lead role.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who works on such issues as a member of the House Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, also welcomed the passage of the Senate bill.

“Nevada has become a national leader in drone technology,” Titus said.

“From the research being conducted by the Desert Research Institute to the recent drone-delivery test flights being conducted, there is enormous potential in Nevada for this industry to thrive.”

She called on House Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to drop the “misguided attempt to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system for a handful of private corporations with consumers footing the bill.”

Shuster, however, said he planned on pushing ahead with his committee-passed bill even though that measure has not received a House floor vote.

“Transformational air traffic control reform is absolutely necessary to end the unacceptable status quo at the FAA and to ensure the future of America’s aviation system,” he said.

Other provisions of the Senate bill promoted by Heller include those that would provide McCarran International Airport flexibility in using federal funds to build facilities offering multiple modes of transportation such as rail and taxis, give additional resources to smaller airports to attract new airlines routes, and add tourism stakeholders such as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to the future aviation infrastructure and financing study provision in the bill.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 95 to 3 with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada supporting it.

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