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Congress releases Draft FAA Reauthorization Bills: Here’s What You Need to Know
June 9, 2023 by Paul Melmeyer

Today, the Senate Commerce Committee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees each released their proposed FAA reauthorization bills. The Senate’s legislation, while still in draft format, includes some of the most transformative reforms to make air travel more accessible since the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. The House’s proposed legislation, while not going quite as far as the Senate, still includes major reforms to air travel for those with disabilities.

Included in the drafts are provisions that will take us several steps closer to allowing individuals to fly in their wheelchairs, including what should be the conclusive feasibility studies that demonstrate how individuals can fly safely in their wheelchairs. From there, the Department of Transportation would report precisely how Congress should require airlines to allow individuals with disabilities to fly in their wheelchairs, a major step forward. The House includes nearly identical language within their proposal.

Both drafts also include a variety of provisions to make flying safer and more dignified for those with disabilities, including many provisions MDA requested. The bills require airlines to publish cargo hold details, and the Senate bill requires seating dimensions to be published as well, hopefully allowing individuals with disabilities and their wheelchairs to fly more safely. The Senate legislation also requires the implementation of robust training requirements for baggage handlers and personnel who conduct seat transfers, including testing personnel every six months to ensure they are safely and appropriately handling individuals with disabilities and their wheelchairs. The House does not include these provisions

Both bills require a study and subsequent implementation on ensuring evacuation standards includes those with disabilities. Also required are expanded reporting requirements on broken wheelchairs with tighter enforcement of civil penalties from the Department of Transportation, based on legislative language proposed by MDA earlier this year. The Senate bill allows passengers to request on-board wheelchairs ahead of time, and both bills require in-flight announcements to be made accessible.

Finally, both bills include a reauthorization of the Air Carrier Access Advisory Committee, and the Senate version gives folks with disabilities a seat at the table as training programs are created for seat transfers and wheelchair handling.

In total, these bills, and in particular the Senate bill, would represent the biggest reforms to accessible air travel since the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. While MDA is encouraged, much work remains to be done to not only successfully enact these reforms into law, but also pursue additional provisions that are not included within these draft bills, particularly the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act.

Stay tuned for more shortly on how you can help ensure these reforms are enacted into law.

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