Kelly Secures Arizona Priorities in Senate-Passed FAA Reauthorization

Bill includes Kelly’s bipartisan SOAR Act and Wildfire Response Aviation Modernization and Safety Act

Tonight, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly voted to pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which re-ups critical programs and makes improvements to protect airline consumers and improve aviation safety. It also includes Kelly-led initiatives to strengthen aviation workforce opportunities, improve wildland air firefighting, and track high-altitude balloons. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for final passage. FAA programs must be reauthorized every 5 years. 

“Today’s vote takes us one step closer to strengthening the aviation industry in Arizona,” said Kelly. “Through investments in workforce, infrastructure, and technology, this bill expands economic opportunities in the field and makes growing airports—like the Mesa Gateway Airport—more competitive. This reauthorization will also fortify our national security through my bipartisan SOAR Act, which ensures we know whether objects in our airspace are a threat or not.”  

Click here to read bill text. See below for a breakdown of key Arizona priorities Kelly secured in the Senate-passed FAA bill: 


The FAA bill includes the SOAR Act, legislation by Kelly and Senator Ted Budd (R-NC), which requires the FAA to develop regulations requiring all high-altitude balloons to be equipped with a system which tracks their altitude, location, and identity and reports that data to air traffic control. 

Kelly and Budd introduced the SOAR Act in March 2023 following the federal government’s response to four unknown aerial objects over North America, including one Chinese surveillance balloon, which were shot down by U.S. fighter jets.   


Kelly secured the inclusion of the Wildfire Response Aviation Modernization and Safety Act, legislation he introduced with Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) in March 2023 to streamline requirements to allow for leased wildfire response aircraft to carry wildland firefighters, where it is safe to do so. 


Kelly successfully fought to include an FAA Deed Restriction waiver in this bill to enable development in the City of Buckeye. Kelly has worked with the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense to remove the deed restriction on an unusable former airfield since 2022


The FAA bill includes Kelly’s Aviation Workforce Development Act to expand FAA’s workforce development initiatives for pilots and aircraft maintenance and establish a new program to support aircraft manufacturing training programs. 

Kelly also secured safety enhancements for air traffic control towers, allowing the busy Mesa Gateway Airport to graduate from a Contract Tower to an FAA tower, improving safety at this growing regional airport.  

Other notable provisions 

Other provisions in this bill that will make air travel safer and Arizona’s aviation workforce and infrastructure stronger include: 


The bill requires the FAA to deploy the latest airport surface situational awareness technologies to avoid “close calls.” It also increases access to high quality advanced training with deployment of more high-fidelity tower simulation systems in FAA air traffic control towers. 


The FAA will have to further evaluate cabin air quality, establish a new method for reporting fume and smoke events for crewmembers, and take action to address any relevant safety risks. In addition, the legislation requires updates to the FAA staffing model to hire more safety inspectors and improve evacuation standards. 


The legislation streamlines job pathways for veterans by requiring the creation of a new military mechanic competency test and increases FAA outreach and engagement on pathways to attain civilian mechanic certifications. 


For the first time, passengers will have clear standards in law for refunds when an airline cancels or significantly delays a flight. A refund will be required if a domestic flight is delayed 3 hours and if an international flight is delayed 6 hours. Airlines will be required to display easy-to-find refund request buttons on their websites. And when airlines offer credits in lieu of a refund, credits must be good for at least 5 years—so they don’t expire before they can be used.  

Additionally, the bill authorizes for the first time the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection to be led by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary to ensure that there is an active, politically accountable cop on the beat advocating for consumers. 

See what Arizona leaders are saying about the provisions Kelly secured:   

City of Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn stated: “Passage of the FAA reauthorization bill is a tremendous victory for the City of Buckeye. Section 759 of the bill releases the deed restrictions on the area known as the Buckeye 940. This provision will allow Buckeye, one of the fastest growing cities in the country, to improve connectivity by allowing for the widening of Yuma Road and Van Buren Street. It will also unleash hundreds of millions of dollars of economic development and will contribute millions of dollars to the state trust for the benefit of Arizona’s school children. This could not have happened without the tremendous support and advocacy of Senators Sinema and Kelly. We are grateful for their incredible work on this important issue, and we appreciate their continued commitment to solving Arizona’s unique and complicated challenges.” 

“Thank you to Senator Kelly and the Arizona Congressional Delegation for their steadfast support of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and for securing the contract tower pilot program provision in the FAA Reauthorization Bill. As one of the fastest growing commercial airports in the country, this pilot program will help ensure that passenger safety remains the top priority for all flights that are arriving and departing at the airport,” said Mayor John Giles, City of Mesa

“The aviation industry is a key economic driver for Arizona, contributing an estimated annual revenue of $929 billion in the state,” said Dr. Dolores Durán-Cerda, Interim Chancellor of Pima Community College in Tucson.  “The Aviation Workforce Development Act will allow Pima Community College’s prestigious Aviation Technology Center to continue to train highly sought after maintenance and repair technicians, while developing a more inclusive talent pool for employers. We are truly grateful to Senator Kelly for his leadership in helping expand these amazing career opportunities for our future aviation workers who will keep the nation’s planes flying.” 

“The FAA Reauthorization Act contains several policy improvements that will enable Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to continue to be an economic engine for the greater Phoenix Region and the State of Arizona. In particular, the bill contains a provision that will allow the Airport’s Air Traffic Control Tower to compete for inclusion in a pilot program designed to optimize tower staffing. We are grateful for the support of Senator Kelly and the Arizona Congressional Delegation in securing this provision,” said J. Brian O’Neill, A.A.E., Executive Director/CEO, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority.