The Dept. of Transportation has unveiled details of a long-awaited Bush administration bill that would overhaul how aviation programs are financed, including a provision to drop the 7.5% ticket tax passengers now pay and institute a new system of user charges such as a "congestion fee" for flights that land at the nation's 30 most clogged airports.

Granite Construction
Proposed fees would fund airport expansion project.

Dept. of Transportation officials, who announced the specifics of the plan on Feb. 14, say it aims to more closely match what major airlines, smaller general aviation carriers and others pay with the costs their flights impose on the air traffic control and airport network.

But the long-awaited proposal, contained in a draft FAA reauthorization bill, now must pass muster on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are seeking to approve a new reauthorize FAA bill by Sept. 30, when the current statute lapses. A key House legislator, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), already has expressed reservations about the need for the sort of sweeping changes DOT is recommending.

For the construction industry, an important part of the DOT plan is a proposal to let airports boost passenger facility charges to as much $6.00 per flight segment, from a maximum $4.50 now. PFCs are a key source of funding for airport infrastructure projects and FAA says the hike would produce an estimated $1.2 billion in additional revenue per year.

In addition, the proposed bill would make major changes in FAA's Airport Improvement Program, which provides more than $3 billion a year in grants for runways, taxiways and other projects. Much of AIP's annual funding is parcelled out according to several congressionally mandated apportionments and set-asides. The administration wants to phase out the current AIP passenger-volume-based allocation for large airports and drop set-asides for such categories as noise abatement and smaller "reliever" airports.

The administration released general concepts about its aviation blueprint on Feb. 5, with President Bush's fiscal 2008 budget recommendations.