DOT officials, who released specifics of their aviation bill Feb. 14, say it aims to more closely match fees big airlines, general aviation flyers and others pay with the costs they impose on the system.

It would end the 7.5% passenger ticket tax, raise or impose other charges and revamp airport grant allotments. It also would boost passenger facility charges, which fund construction. General aviation interests, whose fuel tax would more than triple under the plan, have blasted it; other groups call it a good beginning.

For Airport Improvement Program construction grants, the bill authorizes $2.75 billion for 2008, $2.9 billion in 2009 and $3.05 billion in 2010. Those sums are far below the $3.5 billion appropriated and $3.7 billion authorized this year. But DOT also would lift the cap on PFCs to $6, from $4.50. That would mean $1.2 billion more a year for infrastructure, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates. It pegs 2006 PFC collections at $2.5 billion. Adding proposed AIP funding to projected PFC revenue makes total 2008 airport construction aid $50 million above 2007’s $6.36 billion.

DOT’s Proposed Changes Include:

Abolish 7.5% ticket tax; add user fees; boost general aviation fuel tax to about 70¢ per gal., from 22¢ now.
Hike PFC cap to $6, from $4.50.
Revamp Airport Improvement Program, to reduce aid to big airports, increase funds for small airfields.
Fund AIP at $2.75 billion in 2008, $2.9 billion in 2009 and $3.05 billion in 2010, down from $3.5 billion in 2007.
Sources: FAA, Industry Sources  

DOT also would shift where AIP money goes. Reasoning that large airports rely less on AIP than smaller airfields do, it would phase out major airports’ AIP passenger-volume-based allocation—$888 million, or 26% of AIP dollars available in 2006—and direct more of the money to smaller airports.

Will the new bill fly on Capitol Hill? Rockefeller said at a Feb. 15 Senate hearing, “There’s nothing in the word user fee that offends me…It offends a number of sections of the airline industry, but I can’t help that.” In the House, transportation panel Democrats probably are “going to move ahead with our own bill,” says spokesman Jim Berard. Odds are it won’t adhere closely to DOT’s blueprint.

With a Sept. 30 deadline, “This is a whole lot of change to fit into a narrow time frame,” says Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies’ vice president for government affairs. But he adds, “It may be that some elements of the plan will survive.”

he Bush administration proposal to overhaul aviation funding is getting a mixed response in Congress. Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is open to DOT’s idea of new user fees, but House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) hasn’t embraced the plan’s sweeping changes. Time is tight: The current aviation law expires Sept. 30.