New federal airport construction grants remain on hold, despite the enactment of a $60-billion bill reauthorizing Federal Aviation Administration programs for the next four years. The reason for the delay in new Airport Improvement Program grant awards is that Congress hasn't yet passed a fiscal 2004 appropriations bill for the Dept. of Transportation, FAA's federal parent. Spending for DOT is tied up in an omnibus appropriations package, which is stuck in Congress over a variety of issues.
FAA had not cleared any AIP grants for fiscal 2004, well over a week after President Bush signed into law the four-year "Vision 100--Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act." The new statute, enacted Dec. 12, commemorates the Wright Brothers' 1903 flight, and is the successor to "AIR-21," the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act of 2000.
New AIP grants are still in limbo. "Nothing's been approved," Tammy Jones, an FAA spokesperson, told ENR on Dec. 23. She says that the agency has not yet heard what its 2004 appropriations level will be and after that, AIP grant applications still must go through FAA's review process. Jones says it probably will be about May before airports start to receive their 2004 AIP money. The exception, she says, would be emergency construction requests--for example, to repair airport damage caused by earthquakes or major storms.
Congress will not resume consideration of the omnibus appropriations package until January at the earliest. FAA has been unable to approve new AIP grants since Sept. 30, when fiscal 2003 ended. AIR-21 also expired on that date, but FAA has been able to keep its other operations going under stop-gap spending measures.
Nevertheless, enactment of the Vision 100 measure is a step forward. For construction, the new law's key element is the $14.2 billion it authorizes for AIP. The bill sets the program at $3.4 billion in 2004, then increases it by $100 million annually, to a peak of $3.7 billion in 2007.
The legislation also establishes a $500-million-a-year Aviation Security Capital Fund to finance security projects at airports around the country. The fund draws its revenue from security fees that airline passengers pay and it is administered by the Dept. of Homeland Security, not FAA, which handles AIP. The new security fund's annual allocation is subject to appropriations, and Congress held that appropriation to $250 million for fiscal 2004. Homeland Security's 2004 appropriations bill has been enacted.
In addition, the Vision 100 law retains AIR-21's budgetary protection that aims to ensure that aviation trust fund spending will equal user fee receipts plus interest. The bill also has provisions to expedite environmental reviews of new runways and other airport projects designed to add capacity.