The search for a new Federal Aviation Administration authorization is heating up, with House and Senate committee approvals of multi-year House and Senate bills. Both measures call for increases in FAA infrastructure grants but differ sharply on how they deal with the air traffic control system.
The six-year House version, which Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced, would spin off FAA’s ATC operations into a nonfederal nonprofit entity. The committee approved the measure on June 27 by a 32-25 vote.
The four-year Senate version—authored by Senate commerce committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and the panel's ranking Democrat, Bill Nelson (Fla.)—would leave ATC within FAA. [Senate bill summary.] The commerce committee cleared the bill on June 29 by a voice vote.
Both bills hike FAA’s Airport Improvement Program infrastructure grants from this year’s $3.35-billion appropriation. The Thune-Nelson version raises AIP in steps to $3.75 billion in its last year, 2021. Its annual AIP average over the four years is $3.65 billion, up 9% from this year’s level.
Shuster’s version also has gradual annual increases for AIP, to a maximum of $3.82 billion in the proposal’s final year, 2023. Its annual average is $3.62 billion, an 8% hike over 2017.
Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors of America's highway and transportation division, says, "That funding level has been flat for so long, that any increase is welcome." He adds, "Airport runway needs continue to grow and at least this is a step in the right direction."
A 2016 FAA report estimated needs for projects eligible for AIP grants at $32 billion between 2017 and 2021. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association on June 26 released a study showing that current AIP funding only meets about half of airports' annual needs that are eligible for AIP dollars.
Neither FAA measure increases the current $4.50 cap on passenger facility charges, another important revenue source for airport infrastructure projects.
The PFC freeze is a setback for airport officials, who have been pushing Congress for years to remove the limit on the fee, which has remained at $4.50 since 2000.
Airports Council International-North America President and CEO Kevin M. Burke and American Association of Airport Executives President and CEO Todd Hauptli said in a June 22 statement that the Shuster bill “misses a significant opportunity to tackle the real challenge of aging airport infrastructure and advance airports' ability to serve their passengers and communities.”
Lawmakers must act on an FAA bill by Sept. 30, when a current stopgap expires.
Story updated on 6/30/17 with committee votes.