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Five-year FAA spending bill heads to Trump's desk

The US Congress has approved a long-term Federal Aviation Administration spending bill that regulates seat size and restricts passenger bumping.

Despite these new regulations, the bill has broad industry support for providing the FAA with five years of funding. It now heads to the desk of President Donald Trump for his signature.

The agency has long operated under short-term spending bills, which insiders agree have hindered its ability to modernise US airspace.

President Trump is expected to consider the bill by 7 October, when the FAA's current funding expires.

"The legislation provides long-term certainty, which is critical toward maintaining a safe and affordable travel experience for consumers," trade group Airlines for America (A4A) says in a statement.

"The five-year reauthorisation is the longest for the agency since 1982," says the Regional Airline Association (RAA). "This provides the FAA, airlines and airports with the ability to plan for the future."

The Senate passed the bill on 2 October following passage by the House of Representatives on 26 September.

The legislation does not strip air traffic control from the FAA, an idea recently supported by some Republicans.

SEAT SIZE

The bill does require the FAA regulate minimum seat dimensions – pitch, width, length – as "necessary for the safety of passengers", the text says.

Likewise, the regulator will need to review how changes in seat configuration have affected aircraft evacuation requirements.

The bill prohibits airlines from denying boarding to passengers who already checked-in, or from removing those passengers from aircraft.

And it would require airlines to proactively pay compensation to passengers who are denied boarding, rather than waiting until passengers request compensation.

In addition, the bill requires airlines to "promptly" refund fees for ancillary services passengers do not receive.

The bill also prohibits passengers from making mobile phone calls during flight.

Passenger advocacy groups like Flyers Rights have advocated for seat standards in recent years, particularly as major US network carriers have crammed more seats into aircraft.

A4A tells FlightGlobal that it supports the government's "role in determining what seat size is safe", adding that the FAA has affirmed that US airlines meet federal seat-size safety standards. The group has previously opposed consumer protection seat-size rules, saying airlines are best suited to define their products.

Flight attendant union Association of Flight Attendants-CWA praises the bill for stipulating that flight attendants who work 14h or less receive at least 10h of rest, up from 9h.

The RAA and the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) praised the bill for addressing workforce shortages. Specifically, it will establish pilot and technician training programmes, and fund each of those programmes with up to $5 million annually for five years.

"It’s a major piece of workforce legislation," ARSA says. "The bill… includes important reforms to improve mechanic training and other initiatives to encourage more Americans to pursue aviation careers."

Some groups took issue with the bill. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, whose members represent pilots at cargo and passenger airlines, faulted the legislation for keeping in place rules that exempt cargo aircraft pilots from more-stringent rest rules that apply to pilots of passenger aircraft.

The group had also hoped the legislation would crack down on the ability of "flags of convenience" airlines from serving the USA.

Such carriers are those based, for the purpose of avoiding labour laws, outside the country where its owners reside, critics have said.

Story updated 4 October to note that the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations represents unions whose members also include pilots of passenger aircraft.

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