Commerce Committee Chairman McCain
(Photo courtesy: Office of Sen. John McCain)
A Senate committee has approved legislation that would increase funding for federal airport construction grants and also set up a new fund to finance airport security projects. But a provision to add long-distance flights to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., is expected to pose problems when the bill gets to the Senate floor.

The bill, which the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee cleared unanimously on May 1, calls for $3.4 billion for the Airport Improvement Program in fiscal 2004. That total would rise to $3.5 billion in 2005 and $3.6 billion in 2006.

Lawmakers and industry have been concerned that airports have been tapping the AIP funds to pay for security needs in the aftermath of the September,11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The committee bill establishes a new "aviation security capital fund," of $500 million a year. That money would be drawn from aviation security fees, which were recently suspended but due to be reinstated on Sept. 30. Those fees would not go into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which finances AIP.

The bill also includes provisions aimed at expediting environmental reviews and planning for runway projects at major airports.

The committee approved an amendment offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that would increase the number of daily, long-distance flights to and from Reagan National airport. It was adopted by a one-vote margin and the issue is sure to be raised on the Senate floor. Commerce committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) acknowledged that the National airport matter was a problem that would need to be resolved.