US Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) said she was “90% sure” Congress would pass legislation reauthorizing the FAA before its Oct. 1 deadline, and said the Senate could take up the bill following next week’s recess during a speech at the Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA) Air Safety Forum in Washington DC.

“We’ve come to an agreement on just about everything, and I don’t see any major obstructions,” Duckworth said in her Aug. 1 address to the pilot union. “Next week, we’re home for our [State Work Periods], and when we come back [to Washington] we’ll be doing FAA reauthorization.”

During the speech, Duckworth criticized what she called “misguided efforts” to eliminate the Congressionally mandated 1,500-hr. rule, which requires pilots have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, meaning they must accumulate 1,500 flight hr. before ascending to the first officer’s seat at a Part 121 US airline. Critics of the rule have blamed it for what they describe as a shortage of qualified first officers, mainly at regional airlines.

Defending the flight training rule, Duckworth argued the requirement was responsible for the precipitous drop in US commercial aviation fatalities since 2010, which fell to just one from more than 1,100 in the previous two decades, according to the senator. She argued assertions of a pilot shortage are “just not true,” and that there are currently “two ATP-certified pilots for every available job.”

Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who authored the controversial provision, ultimately decided to abandon it in March in the face of heavy opposition from ALPA and some lawmakers in Congress. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in June brought the rule back into the spotlight, when she floated the idea of a possible administrative solution at an aviation forum sponsored by The Washington Post.

“We’ve all read the stories...that there’s going to be a pilot shortage that never comes,” said Duckworth, adding: “Maybe those who are opposed to the 1,500-hr. rule should focus on ensuring qualified pilots are paid fair wages that reflect the professionalism, skill level and responsibilities they take on as pilots.”

Duckworth also described herself as “very troubled” by a provision in the House’s version of the FAA bill that calls for research into single-piloted cargo operations. She claimed that research from NASA found single-pilot operations result in “unacceptable reduced safety margins” and “performance degradation.”

“An aircraft requires two experienced, qualified pilots to maintain operations, check weather forecasts, scan for other aircraft, communicate with air traffic control and so much more,” Duckworth said. “I hope that we reject this misguided provision, and I will ensure it by talking to every one of my colleagues who will have a vote on this.”

The House passed H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act, in late April on a 393-13 vote. The Senate needs to pass its version of the bill this Summer before an Oct. 1 deadline. Congress has not enacted a long-term FAA reauthorization bill since 2012, instead relying on short-term extensions and continuing resolutions to authorize the agency’s operations.

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com