Weekly Columns

The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly three million air travelers on Sunday, June 23, breaking the single day record. Seven of the top 10 busiest travel days ever at our nation’s airports have been since late May. The agency predicts it will continue to hit new highs as we’re in the middle of the busy summer travel season. 

As more people fly and air travel continues to grow, there is a need for modernization to boost confidence in the industry and the aviation workforce. In May, Congress passed crucial reforms to accomplish these goals in the bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2024 the president signed into law.

This win for Arkansans and all Americans improves passenger safety, invests in aviation infrastructure and personnel in addition to advancing technology and innovation to get travelers to their destinations safely.

The FAA invests in facility upgrades and expansion of airports through its Airport Improvement Program (AIP). In our state, 76 airports are eligible for AIP awards and many have received funding to improve safety, rehabilitate runways and widen taxiways through this initiative. The FAA reauthorization increases money available for the program so our airports can continue making upgrades.

The law also helps surge the hiring of air traffic controllers so we can ensure an ample pipeline of personnel are in place to meet the demands of the industry.

An expansion of this workforce is critical because last year the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General found the FAA didn’t have adequate staffing at 77 percent of critical facilities.

I’m pleased the measure included a provision I championed to improve FAA hiring practices so we can ease this shortfall and get more individuals trained and on the job to enhance safety and efficiency. 

This law also promotes the integration of new and emerging technology. Arkansas is already successfully leading in this area, implementing the use of drones to augment human inspectors and spot flaws and structural issues on bridges, railways and other infrastructure projects.

After the shutdown of the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River, ARDOT increased its drone capabilities and now boasts one of the most expansive programs in the country. This newly passed federal policy will allow state and local governments to follow Arkansas’s example.  

Drone deployment improves safety and saves taxpayer dollars. That’s why I backed legislation to empower communities to use these tools as well as invest in American-made drones and the next generation workforce in drone aviation.

This language was included in the FAA reauthorization. It authorizes $200 million in grants for two years to purchase drones and foster development of programs to prepare future employees in the field. 

I am hopeful this will benefit communities across the country and spurs further investments in drone capabilities that provide cost-effective solutions to improve our infrastructure.

Reauthorization of the FAA is a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together. This was the result of bipartisan input in committee hearings and debates in the Senate and House of Representatives, with ultimate goal of making meaningful updates to strengthen our aviation system and improve air travel. Arkansans and our neighbors throughout the country will reap the benefits of this achievement.