Letter from FAA's Blakey
sealed deal on bill (Photo courtesy of FAA)

After weeks of negotiating, the Senate has passed a four-year, $60-billion aviation measure that contains $14.2 billion for federal airport grants. The Senate's Nov. 21 approval is the final congressional action on the legislation. President Bush's expected signature will permit the Federal Aviation Administration to resume approving new Airport Improvement Program grants. The agency had been unable to clear new AIP aid since Sept. 30 when the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century--AIR-21--expired.

The measure had been hung up because of Democratic, and union, opposition to a provision that would let FAA contract out more air traffic controller positions. But under a compromise brokered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) FAA agreed not to put any controller jobs up for possible privatization through Sept. 30, 2004, when the fiscal year ends. A Nov. 21 letter from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey confirming that pledge sealed the deal.

The bill authorizes $3.4 billion for AIP in fiscal 2004, then boosts that amount by $100 million a year, topping out at $3.7 billion in fiscal 2007. The 2003 AIP appropriation is $3.38 billion.

In addition, the measure establishes a separate fund to finance airport security projects. That fund, authorized at $500 million a year, is supported by current security fees that airline passengers pay. It was a response to arguments that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airports were using a large amount of AIP aid , which has capacity and safety projects, to security projects.

The new bill, titled "Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act," also contains provisions aimed to expedite environmental reviews of runways and other airport capacity-increasing projects.