The latest in a long line of stopgap authorizations for Federal Aviation Administration programs is due to expire on Jan. 31. With Congress in session for only a few days before that date and no deal yet on a multiyear measure, it looks as if at least one more extension is in the cards.
For construction, the key issue is how much will be authorized—and when—for FAA's Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, which finance work on runways, taxiways and other infrastructure.
The current stopgap is the 23rd since September 2007, when the last long-term aviation bill lapsed. Jane Calderwood, Airports Council International-North America vice president for government and political affairs, says there are about a half-dozen legislative days slated until the end of January, adding, "I believe we'll see an extension."
Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies vice president for government affairs, agrees another stopgap is likely. While he believes "the pieces are there" for an agreement on a multiyear bill, Hall says, "The question is whether there's the desire, the imperative, to get it done. It's discouraging that that hasn't been the case so far."
The Senate approved a two-year FAA bill in February 2011, and the House cleared a four-year measure in April. Since then, the two sides have been unable to reconcile all of their differences.
Industry wants strong AIP funding. The House bill averages about $3 billion a year for AIP; the Senate's bill has about $4 billion annually. Authorizations are subject to annual appropriations. AIP's 2012 appropriation is $3.35 billion.
The biggest hurdle to a multiyear bill is a dispute over a 2010 National Mediation Board (NMB) rule that changed procedures for airline and rail workers' union elections. The change is seen as a plus for organized labor. The House bill would undo the regulation; the Senate version would keep it in place.
Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives senior executive vice president, says extension No. 24 is likely to be short, in the hope that the NMB issue can be resolved. If negotiations fail, Hauptli says the new stopgap will go through September or beyond.
Calderwood says having multiple short stopgaps has hampered many airports, which are required to have all funds for a construction project in place before work can begin. She says, "You end up missing construction seasons, particularly in the northern tier."
Hauptli says that, over the past couple of years, some airports haven't received AIP aid until September. For an upper-Midwest airport, he says, "you need to have that money in hand by late spring, early summer at the latest, if you're going to salvage a construction season."