In Senate Bill Would Boost Airport Grant Program By Tom Ichniowski In an important step toward reauthorizing AIR-21, key Senators have introduced a bill that would increase the federal airport construction grant program and set up a new vehicle for funding airport security projects.

The bill, which has the backing of leaders of the Senate commerce committee, was introduced April 8. Dubbed "AIR-Vision," for the Aviation Investment and Revitalization Vision Act, the measure would fund the Airport Improvement Program at $3.4 billion in 2004, $3.5 billion in 2005 and $3.6 billion in 2006. AIP, which finances construction grants, has an appropriation this year of $3.38 billion.

The Bush administration's proposed successor to AIR-21, sent to Congress March 25, would hold AIP funding at $3.4 billion annually for four years.

The new Senate bill will be the framework in that chamber for AIR-21 reauthorization because of the clout of its backers. It was introduced by commerce committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and co-sponsored by the committee's ranking Democrat, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, as well as aviation subcommittee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the subcommittee's top Democrat, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Besides the AIP funding, the bill has other provisions that are important to construction. The legislation would accelerate environmental reviews of runway projects at major airports and authorize design-build contracting for aviation construction work.

The measure also would authorize a new fund to finance security-related capital projects at airports. The fund would provide $500 million a year. Airports would be required to put up matching funds for such projects. Large and medium-sized hub airports would have to contribute 25% of project costs; small airports' matching share would be 10%.