Shuster Unveils Six-Year, $67B FAA Reauthorization
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans have proposed a six–year Federal Aviation Administration bill that would authorize $67.3 billion and radically restructure the FAA by spinning off the agency’s air traffic control operations into a nonfederal, nonprofit corporation.
The measure’s prime construction provision is its $21.7-billion in authorizations through 2022 for FAA’s Airport Improvement Program grants, which help finance runways, taxiways and other infrastructure.
But the bill, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act (AIRR), which transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced on Feb. 3, doesn’t include another change that construction and airport groups have sought, an increase in the maximum passenger facility charge (PFC) that airports may impose.
PFCs are another important revenue source for airport infrastructure projects, with 2014 receipts of $2.9 billion, but they have been capped at $4.50 per flight segment since 2000. Major airlines oppose raising the PFC limit.
Airport organization chief executives were pleased to see the bill’s AIP funding, which would rise in annual steps, from $3.4 billion in fiscal 2017 to a peak of $3.8 billion in 2022. The program’s current appropriation is $3.35 billion, the same as last year’s level.
But the officials, Airports Council International-North America’s Kevin M. Burke and American Association of Airport Executives’ Todd Hauptli, pointed to PFCs and said that the bill “misses a significant opportunity to tackle the real challenge of aging airport infrastructure and airports’ ability to serve their passengers and communities.”
They said they would seek a higher PFC ceiling as FAA legislation moves through Congress.
But debate is raging over the bill’s traffic control provision, and the outcome will probably is the key to the fate of the overall reauthorization. Shuster said that the current U.S. aviation system is the world’s safest, but added that it “is incredibly inefficient and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system,”
Shuster’s bill and its air traffic plan won a statement of support from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the controllers’ union.
The National Business Aviation Administration, which represents general-aviation companies, blasted the air traffic control proposal. In a statement, Ed Bolen, NBAA president and CEO, called the plan “risky” and added, “Putting our nation’s ATC system beyond the reach of elected officials has the potential to not only harm general aviation but also stifle innovation and new competition
In a break from the transportation committee’s bipartisanship on other infrastructure bills, the panel’s top Democrat, Peter DeFazio (Ore.), also criticized the Republicans’ air traffic control proposal. He said in a statement, “The privatization plan will tear apart aviation programs, risk unnecessary duplication and complexity and ultimately cost money for taxpayers and travelers.”
In the Senate, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D) praised Shuster and House aviation subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) for getting the FAA reauthorization debate going and said he was pleased to see their bill’s provisions dealing with such issues as airborne drones and aircraft manufacturing.
Thune also said that “because structural reform of air traffic control could bring new benefits for air travelers, it deserves fair consideration.” He said he would introduce his FAA legislation “in the coming weeks.”
FAA programs are operating under a stopgap authorization, which expires at the end of March. A multi-year bill almost surely won’t be passed by then, so another extension will be needed.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urged House lawmakers to take a bipartisan approach to the long-term FAA legislation as they did in passing the $305-billion, five-year transportation measure, the FAST Act.
Foxx said his department would study the proposed aviation measure “to examine whether it enhances safety, improves efficiency and advances aviation in general.” He added, “We’ll have more to say in the coming days.”