With the latest extension for Federal Aviation Administration programs set to expire on June 30, observers aren’t writing off the possibility of a long-term reauthorization but say another stopgap is likely. It would be the fifth continuation since the last long-term FAA statute lapsed on Sept. 30. Riding on whatever new bill emerges will be funding for Airport Improvement Program construction grants. Roadbuilding interests also are eyeing the FAA bill as a possible vehicle for a remedy for the projected 2009 deficit in the Highway Trust Fund.
Steven Broderick, spokesman for Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), says, “I don’t think that anybody is prepared to say that the multiyear reauthorization is dead just yet.” He says if there’s a chance of working out a long-term bill, Rockefeller and the subcommittee’s top Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), would like it to happen. But Broderick says that soon, “We’re going to have to start thinking about an extension of the existing FAA authorities and whether it will be a short-term or a long-term one. And I don’t think that those conversations have really begun yet in earnest.”
Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division, says there has been some behind-the-scenes work on a multiyear bill. “My impression is that they haven’t gotten to the point where it looks like something is going to happen real quick,” he says. Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives’ senior executive vice president, foresees one more shorter-term extension, maybe through 2008. If lawmakers can’t produce a long-term bill by then, “They’ll probably do a full-year extension,” he says.
It’s been a tough time for airport planners. From Jan. 1 through Feb. 28 FAA couldn’t approve new AIP grants because a December stopgap failed to include contract authority. The current extension fixed that, providing $2.8 billion in AIP contract authority, 75% of the full year’s total. Kirk Shaffer, FAA associate administrator for airports, says for AIP aid still available, the agency has told airports it needs decisions on funding projects by June 1, “so that we can process their grant applications and get that money into their bank accounts in a timely fashion.”
“Our guys have gotten pretty good about planning around the Congress, but it’s getting old,” Hauptli says. Adds Shaffer, “This is just no way to do business.”
Construction groups say an FAA bill could carry provisions to rectify the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. If new revenue is not added, highway aid will have to be cut 34%, says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president. “They’ve definitely got to fix it,” he says.