Will this be the year a long-delayed, multi-year aviation bill finally becomes law? There has been progress. The House on April 1 passed a four-year bill, but infrastructure advocates don’t like its cuts to Federal Aviation Administration airport construction grants.
House lawmakers next will take their bill into negotiations with the Senate, which approved a two-year bill in February. Construction groups prefer the Senate version’s funding for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) construction grants, which finance runway work and other projects. The Senate bill averages about $4 billion per year for AIP. However, the House bill slices the program to an annual average of $3.2 billion.
Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives’ senior executive vice president, says, “If history is a guide, they’ll split the difference.” That would be about $3.5 billion, the current AIP appropriation. Hauptli cautions, “That is not guaranteed, however, as the House is under tremendous pressure to provide lower levels.”
Construction and airport groups had wanted to see a nationwide hike in the $4.50 cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs), a key funding source for airport projects.
But a PFC boost probably isn’t in the cards. The House-passed bill keeps the $4.50 cap. So does the Senate version, except for a test program at six airports, which would have no PFC ceiling.
The passage of the House bill essentially brings the situation back to where it was last fall, when House and Senate conferees tried to reconcile multiyear FAA bills that each chamber had approved. But the two sides failed to strike a final deal before the 111th Congress ended and the measures died.
The big difference for construction is that the bill that just cleared the House, which is now under Republican control, is much tougher on infrastructure aid than the previous House bill. The earlier measure averaged $4 billion a year for AIP and raised the PFC cap to $7.
The struggles over a long-term FAA bill date from Sept. 30, 2007, when the last multiyear measure expired. Since then, short-term extensions have kept AIP and other FAA programs running. The latest stopgap, the 18th since 2007, was signed on March 31. It carries aviation programs through May 31.
Hauptli thinks Congress will clear a multiyear FAA bill this year. “If you wait and don’t get this bill done now, you’re likely to run into a buzz saw on funding levels out into the future,” he says.