With Senate approval of a bill to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs, including airport construction grants, construction and airport officials will focus on the House, where a six-year bill has been in a holding pattern for weeks.
The Senate measure, approved on April 19 by an overwhelming 95-3 vote, barely qualifies as long term, extending only about 18 months, through Sept. 30, 2017.
Congress must reauthorize FAA programs, even temporarily, by July 15, when a stopgap measure expires.
The 18-month Senate legislation—crafted by commerce committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) with the panel’s top Democrat, Bill Nelson (Fla.)—is a mixed bag on key construction issues. On the plus side, it increases FAA Airport Improvement Program grants 12%, to $3.75 billion in 2017. AIP aid helps fund runways, taxiways and other infrastructure.
But the bill doesn’t raise the $4.50 cap on passenger facility charges, which airports also use to pay for construction projects. Airport and construction groups have long been pushing for a higher PFC ceiling, which last was increased in 2000.
In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Feb. 11 cleared a six-year FAA bill that raises AIP funding 7% in 2017, to $3.6 billion. It also has further annual hikes, to a peak of just less than $4 billion in 2022.
But the House bill, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization, or AIRR, Act, has yet to have a floor vote. House Republican leaders in late February put off floor action on the measure in the wake of opposition to a provision championed by committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) that would remove FAA’s air traffic control operation and set it up as a new nonprofit nonfederal entity.
The Senate bill keeps air traffic control within FAA.
Shuster indicated after the Senate vote that he’s standing firm in pursuit of air traffic control restructuring. He said in a statement that he would “take a look at” the Senate-passed bill, but added that “we will continue to push forward with the AIRR Act.”
Shuster said, “Transformational air traffic control reform is absolutely necessary to end the unacceptable status quo at the FAA and to ensure the future of America’s aviation system.”