The House has overwhelmingly approved legislation to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs through 2023, including the agency’s airport infrastructure grants and a new airport grant program aimed at rural, non-hub airfields.

The six-year bill, which the House passed on April 27 by a strong 393-13, would freeze authorizations for FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants at their current $3.35-billion level through fiscal year 2023. (View blll text excluding amendments.)

Construction and airport industry officials had hoped that the House would add amendments to increase funding for the airport grants and also remove the current cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs), another important infrastructure funding resource. But proposed amendments to make those changes weren't included among the riders that were included in the final version.

Airports Council International-North America CEO Kevin M. Burke and American Association of Airport Executives CEO Todd Haupti criticized the lack of AIP increases and the retention of the PFC cap.

They said in a statement that the legislation "misses a significant opportunity to provide airports with the resources they require to repair aging infrastructure, make needed investments in their facilities to accommodate rising passenger and cargo volume, and enhance air service competition for the benefit of passengers."

There is a substantial silver lining, however. One amendment that was adopted, authored by the overall bill's main sponsor Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), would create a $5.3-billion, five-year discretionary grant program to fund infrastructure projects at rural, non-hub airports

Committee leaders bypassed a vote by their panel and took the measure straight to the floor, a sign that they felt they had the votes to pass the bill.

Even though a proposed amendment from Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) to increase AIP authorizations failed to be included in the floor package, federal airport construction funding should be strong this year.  Authorizations are subject to an annual appropriation. The appropriations for airport infrastructure grants this year will climb by $1 billion, to  $4.3 billion, thanks to a boost in the recently enacted 2018 omnibus spending package.

Industry officials are pleased with the House measure’s six-year span. They see it as a welcome change from the three stopgap authorizations that have kept FAA programs running since July 2016. The most recent extension was enacted on March 23 as part of the omnibus package. It expires on Sept. 30.

Construction companies prefer multi-year authorizations because they provide the longer-term certainty that allows them to plan for future work. Dave Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association executive vice president, says, “Nobody, no matter what mode you’re operating in, likes to go through extension to extension.”

The House FAA bill’s path was smoothed on Feb. 27, when Shuster dropped his plan to spin off FAA’s air-traffic control operations into a new nonfederal entity. Shuster’s air-traffic control proposal was part of an FAA bill that his committee cleared last June, but in the succeeding months, it failed to gain enough support to ensure floor passage.

Senate committee version

In the Senate, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last June approved a four-year FAA measure that has annual increases for AIP, ending up at $3.75 billion in its last year. The Senate panel’s bill, which has yet to have a floor vote, leaves the PFC limit at $4.50.

A Senate aide told ENR on April 19,  “We’re hoping to have a long-term reauthorization in place by August….That’s the goal.”

Congress isn’t expected to pass many bills of significance through Election Day. But Bauer says the FAA measure looks like an exception He says, “If the House approves a bill, every indication that we’ve heard…from [congressional] leadership and others is that FAA is one of the things that they’re going to do in the remainder of the year.”

The House FAA bill also includes the text of an overall disaster mitigation measure that the transportation committee says would direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to put more emphasis on planning before disasters strike and on mitigation.

Story updated on 4/27/18 with House passage.