WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to enhance airline passenger safety and protections and keep improvements to T.F. Green Airport on schedule, U.S. Senator Jack Reed voted to pass a five year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  The bipartisan aviation policy bill allocates about $90 billion to federal aviation programs over the next five years.  It was approved by the full U.S. Senate on a vote of 93-6 this week and is on its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Senator Reed, the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD), says the bill will help ensure federal funds are available to upgrade T.F. Green Airport and finalize runway expansion and airport infrastructure improvements.

“T.F. Green is vital to our state’s economy and upgrading the airport and expanding the runway will help grow our economy and make Rhode Island more competitive,” said Senator Reed, who has led efforts at the federal level to work with the FAA on plans to invest approximately $110 million in modernizing T.F. Green Airport and expanding the runway. 

Reed also backed key provisions included in the bill to improve airline service and consumer protections for passengers.  He noted the legislation directs the FAA, in consultation with experts, to set a minimum standard seat size and pitch for commercial flights.

“I personally don’t need a whole lot of legroom, but most airline passengers agree that the more legroom and space they have, the more comfortable they are.  And it’s a safety issue if people are so crammed they can’t safely exit in case of an emergency.  This will require minimum standards for airplane seat size and legroom,” noted Reed, who then joked: “Now, if only we could legislate out the middle seat.”

Other key provisions included in the bill:

  • Directs the FAA to implement strategies to reduce the amount of time the travelling public spends going through security checks. 
  • Funds an increase in the number of bomb-sniffing dogs at airports.
  • Prohibits airlines from unfairly kicking passengers off an overbooked flight after they board the plane.
  • Expands the onboard smoking ban to include e-cigarettes.
  • Prohibits passengers from disturbing others by talking on cell phones while in-flight, which most airlines already ban.
  • Establishes the National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force, which will be tasked with issuing recommendations to ensure airlines are properly responding to and addressing in-flight sexual misconduct, including training, reporting, data collection, and law enforcement notification.

Reed also successfully helped beat back a proposal to privatize the nation’s Air Traffic Control system.  Reed, along with U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), has led efforts to fund FAA and warned that Air Traffic Control privatization would shortchange the public, putting the big airlines in charge and compromising safety, access, and public oversight.