After months of delay, the Senate commerce committee has approved a five-year Federal Aviation Administration bill that would boost FAA’s Airport Improvement Program infrastructure grants by 19%, to $4 billion a year. 

The measure, which the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved on Feb. 8 on a voice vote, next goes to the full Senate for floor debate. [View text of committee leaders' substitute amendment here.]

The House had approved its version of a five-year FAA bill on July 29, on a bipartisan 351-69 vote.

The House measure also would provide $20 billion for the airport grant program.

Senate commerce chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said, "Our Senate bill addresses many of the pressing needs of our aviation system." Cantwell added, "And we're investing in airport infrastructure."

The committee's action marks a step forward for a proposal that had been stalled for months. In June, Cantwell had scheduled a vote of the panel on the FAA bill. But in a surprise move, she postponed that “markup” session. There were disagreements over several controversial issues, including federal requirements for pilot training.

During the committee’s new markup, the issue that drew the most debate was an amendment offered by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots to 67 years, from the current ceiling of 65.

Blackburn's proposal was defeated on a 14-13 vote.

Given the slim margin, it would not be surprising to see Blackburn's amendment resurface when the FAA bill hits the Senate floor.