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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Congress to evaluate how to broaden air cargo operations in Puerto Rico

When the U.S. House of Representatives evaluated the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón inserted a section that includes a study on air cargo operations in Puerto Rico.

By The Star Staff

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón reported on Tuesday that both chambers of Congress reached an agreement on the financing of aviation programs in which the federal government would identify what is necessary to expand air cargo operations in Puerto Rico.

The bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the product of months of negotiations between the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, of which the resident commissioner is a member, and its counterpart in the Senate, the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The next step is for both legislative bodies to approve the bill.

When the House evaluated the bill, González Colón inserted Section 761, which included a study on air cargo operations in Puerto Rico.

The language in the current bill requires the federal government to identify what would be needed to expand air cargo operations in Puerto Rico, including additional infrastructure and personnel, at the island’s three international airports. The proposed study would provide valuable information to improve security and infrastructure and thus continue to drive the island’s economic development through direct and wise investments, according to the bill.

The bill also includes several other measures. For instance, Section 342 renames the FAA Alaska Aviation Safety Initiative the “Don Young Alaska Aviation Safety Initiative” and establishes goals for working with aviation-related entities to reduce the rate of fatal airline accidents by 90% between 2019 and 2033 and eliminate fatal commercial aircraft accidents by 2033 in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories.

The same section also directs the FAA to ensure the installation and operation of automated weather reporting systems and the reliability and availability of information from those systems. Additionally, it directs the FAA to implement visual weather observation systems and continue to evaluate the status of weather camera systems. The section also requires the FAA to identify and implement reasonable mitigations to improve the maintenance of FAA-owned meteorological observation systems that experience frequent service interruptions, and to encourage and incentivize automatic dependent surveillance transmission equipment on commercial airplanes that operate in the covered locations.

The section further requires the FAA to submit an annual report on the initiative to Congress, including a detailed description of how the FAA budget meets the objectives of the initiative.

Moreover, the legislation contains Section 712, which revises the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) distribution formulas. They include increasing the minimum primary airport layout and eliminating the limit for small commercial service airports with fewer than 10,000 passengers. Instead, commercial service airports will receive funding on a sliding scale, ranging from $150,000 to $1.3 million, depending on the number of passengers.

The section also increases airport cargo sharing to 4% of funds available under the AIP and allows airports with more than 25,000,000 pounds of total ground weight to receive cargo sharing.

The revisions include increasing the general (non-commercial) aviation distribution from 20% to 25% of funds available under the AIP.

The legislation also added Section 912 to establish a grant program to support the use of UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones) when inspecting, repairing or constructing critical infrastructure. Under such a program, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) would provide grants to state, tribal and local governments, metropolitan planning organizations or groups of those entities to purchase and use UAS to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve worker and community safety, reduce carbon emissions or meet other priorities related to critical infrastructure projects.

The DOT must submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees evaluating the grant program within two years of the first grant being awarded under the section.

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