After months of debate and delay, Senate and House transportation leaders have reached agreement on a sweeping, five-year Federal Aviation Administration authorization that includes a multiyear hike in funding for the FAA’s airport construction grant program. Read the text of the bill here.

The pact on the compromise $105-billion aviation package was announced in the early hours of April 29 by Senate commerce committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.); the committee’s top Republican, Ted Cruz (Texas); House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.); and the House transportation panel's ranking Democrat, Rick Larsen (Wash.)

The four lawmakers said in a statement: “Now more than ever, the FAA needs strong and decisive direction from Congress to ensure America’s aviation system maintains its gold standard, and we have reached a bipartisan, bicameral comprehensive agreement to do just that."

Focus on Airport Grants

For construction, engineering and airport groups, the package's main focus is its $19.4-billion authorization for FAA's Airport Improvement Program (AIP). Those grants help to finance runways, taxiways and other infrastructure projects.

Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and workforce for the Associated General Contractors of America, told ENR via email that the boost to the AIP is "much-needed."

Turmail said, "This program will continue modernizing American airport infrastructure by increasing funding for capital improvements or rehabilitation projects."

The bill includes $3.35 billion for AIP for the remainder of fiscal year 2024 and $4 billion annually from fiscal 2025 through 2028. The $4 billion represents a 19.4% increase over the level provided in the last multiyear FAA bill, which was enacted in 2018.

The funding would take the form of authorizations, which are subject to annual appropriations. 

A bill summary said that the measure also would require the FAA to propose a rule to set a "performance-based regulatory pathway" for drones to operate beyond a visual line of sight.

Turmail says, "This change will increase the efficiency and effectiveness for contractors that use drones on projects for activities such as surveying, inspections, data collection and visual documentation."

The agency would have to issue the proposed rule within four months of the bill's enactment; a final rule must be issued within 16 months after the proposal is issued.

Policy Provisions

The American Association of Airport Executives said that the bill also would "usher in a long list of policy changes to help airports of all sizes." The bill changes the way AIP apportionments are handled, including an increase in the minimum amounts primary airports, cargo airports and general-aviation airfields can receive.

In addition, the measure eliminates an AIP supplemental program and replaces it with a new airport resilience program, authorized at $200 million a year.

Other provisions include authorizing FAA to approve AIP grants for projects that use innovative financing and a pilot program for grants for contracts that use integrated project delivery.

The new legislative agreement also would extend the federal aviation taxes that support the Airport and Airway Trust Fund through Sept. 30, 2028. 

In addition it would extend the expenditure authority for the trust fund through Sept. 30, 2028.

The next steps for the proposed agreement are floor votes in the House and Senate. FAA has been operating for months under short-term extensions, the latest of which is due to expire on May 10.

One of the factors that stalled the bill was a debate over whether to add more flights at Ronald Reagan International Airport. Despite vociferous objections from senators representing Maryland and Virginia, who worried about the impact of the change on safety and flight delays, the bill's negotiators included a provision adding five incoming and five outgoing flights.