Action has heated up in Congress on legislation to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs, including a sizable proposed funding boost for the agency’s airport infrastructure grants.

House lawmakers have taken the big step so far, with the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee’s unanimous 63-0 approval on June 14 of a wide-ranging, five-year FAA reauthorization. ENR calculates the package's total cost at about $104 billion. [Text of the bill, excluding June 14 amendments.]

For construction and engineering companies and groups, the bill's most significant provision is its $20-billion authorization over five years for FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which funds construction grants.

At $4 billion annually, the funding represents a 19% increase from levels in the current FAA measure, enacted in 2018, which authorized $3.35 billion per year for AIP. Authorizations are subject to annual appropriations.

In the Senate, bipartisan leaders of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on June 12 introduced their FAA reauthorization proposal. The Senate measure also spans five years.

The commerce committee says the proposal authorizes a total of $107 billion; like the House committee's bill, the Senate panel's includes $20 billion for airport grants.

House T&I committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said in opening remarks for the first part the voting session, on June 13, "This bill will ensure robust investment in this critical infrastructure for airports of all sizes, including smaller general aviation airports.”

Industry groups strongly support the hike for AIP funds and also cite other provisions of the legislation that they view as positive moves.

Industry Groups Praise Funding Boost

Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president-public affairs and strategic initiatives, said of the House bill, “The increased funding levels will help airports address air travel congestion.”

Turmail said via email, “We are also excited by the price adjustment clauses included in the House measure, which will protect firms—particularly small and DBE firms—from being squeezed by rising materials costs.”

He also pointed to a House provision directing FAA to propose a rule setting forth airworthiness and operational requirements for unmanned aircraft systems—drones—to operate beyond the visual line of sight. He added that the envisioned regulation would “give contractors additional flexibility in how they safely use drones.” 

Linda Bauer Darr, American Council of Engineering Cos. president and chief executive officer, said in a June 11 letter to House T&I committee leaders statement that the bill would “deliver aviation and airport infrastructure policies that enhance safety, facilitate economic development and meet the growing needs of the traveling public.”

Darr also highlighted a provision expanding use of AIP grants for airport terminal projects as another beneficial move. Darr said ACEC also likes a provision in the bill authorizing alternative project delivery methods. She said, "Our member firms are contracting with their airport clients in new and creative ways to align the interests of all parties with respect to project costs and outcomes." 

Emily A. Feenstra, American Society of Civil Engineers chief policy and external affairs officer, observed in a June 9 letter to T&I Committee leaders that the bill does not eliminate the cap on passenger facility charges, a move that ASCE had recommended. But Feenstra added that “shoring up AIP funds is a positive step to protect infrastructure funding and improve the condition of our airports.”

Airport groups and other infrastructure advocates have long called for removing the ceiling on PFCs, which are an important revenue source for airport infrastructure projects. The cap is $4.50 and was set at that level in 2000. 

American Association of Airport Executives President and Chief Executive Todd Hauptli and Airports Council International-North America President and CEO Kevin Burke said in a joint statement that the House panel’s bill “would result in additional investment in airports, make important programmatic reforms and provide much needed  certainty to airports and the aviation system over the next, critical five years.”