In one of the year's major infrastructure legislation accomplishments, Congress has approved, and President Joe Biden has signed, legislation reauthorizing Federal Aviation Administration programs for the next five years, including a solid increase for the FAA's airport infrastructure grants. 

Final congressional approval came on May 15, when the House approved the wide-ranging, $105-billion measure by an overwhelming 387-26 vote. The Senate cleared the bill on May 9 by a resounding 88-4 vote. 

Biden signed the measure into law on May 16.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the measure's main House author, said in a statement that the bill is "one of the farthest reaching, most consequential pieces of legislation this House will consider in the 118th Congress."

Boost for Airport Grants

For construction companies, engineering firms and other infrastructure advocates, the bill's centerpiece is a boost for FAA's Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, which help finance runways, taxiways and other airport improvements. 

In all, the bill provides $19.7 billion over five years for AIP. That includes $3.35 billion for fiscal year 2024 and $4 billion annually through fiscal 2028. 

The $4 billion represents a 19% increase over AIP's amount in the previous FAA authorization bill, which was enacted in 2018.

The hike in AIP authorizations and other provisions in the bill "will help airports pursue and complete important infrastructure projects to improve the air travel experience for millions of passengers across the country," said Kevin Burke and Todd Hauptli, the CEOs, respectively, of Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives.

Proposed Drone Provision

Besides the boost in AIP funding, the new FAA measure has other construction-related provisions. 

For example, it includes language to require the FAA to propose a regulation setting a "performance-based regulatory pathway" for drones to operate beyond a visual line of sight, as is currently required.

The Associated General Contractors of America has said that provision would improve effectiveness and efficiency for contractors that use drones for surveying, inspections, collecting data and visual documentation.

The bill also makes changes in how AIP funds are allocated among airports, including an increase in the funding share that goes to general-aviation airports, to 25% from 20%.

The legislation creates a program of discretionary grants to fund airport resilience and runway safety projects. The new program receives an authorization of $200 million per fiscal year. It replaces an existing supplemental program.

Integrated Project Delivery

In addition, the measure authorizes FAA to approve AIP grants for airports that are not large hubs and seek to use innovative financing.

The Design Build Institute of America is "thrilled" to see a provision in the bill to authorize a pilot program for AIP grants for projects that use integrated project delivery, says Louis Jenny, DBIA vice president of advocacy and industry engagement.

Jenny said in a statement, "This marks a significant win for design-build, highlighting the value of collaborative project-delivery methods."

The legislation also extends federal aviation taxes that support the Airport and Airway Trust Fund through Sept. 30, 2028.

Story updated late on May 16 to include the bill's enactment.