After a delay of more than seven months, a two-year, $34.6-billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization finally has made it to the Senate floor. For construction, the bill’s key item is the $8.1 billion it would provide for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, which finance runway work and other infrastructure projects.

Of the bill’s $8.1 billion, $4 billion would be for 2010 and $4.1 billion would be for 2011. Funds would be subject to annual appropriations. This year’s AIP appropriation is $3.5 billion.

If the Senate passes the bill, the next step would be a conference with the House, which approved a three-year measure in May 2009. Lawmakers are facing a deadline: A stopgap FAA authorization expires on March 31.

The House and Senate bills have the same AIP numbers for 2010 and 2011, but they differ on passenger facility charges (PFCs)—another important funding source for airport construction.

The House bill would increase the PFC cap to $7 from $4.50 now. The bill pending in the Senate would remove the PFC cap for six to-be-designated airports but otherwise leave it at $4.50.

The Senate commerce committee approved a bill in July, but there was no movement until March. The version pending on the floor now also includes provisions extend-ing aviation taxes and trust-fund spending authority through Sept. 30, 2013.

If the two chambers are unable to finish reconciling their respective bills by March 31, another extension is virtually assured.

FAA programs have been operating under a series of stopgaps since the last multiyear bill expired in 2007. The measure has been extended eleven times, says Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

Jane Calderwood, the vice president of government and political affairs for the Airports Council International-North America, says, “For an airport, when you have all these short-term extensions, it is very difficult to do your long-term plans and your construction projects.”