After more than four years of short-term funding, a multiyear aviation bill seems to be finally on its way to passage. Senate and House leaders on Jan. 20 resolved a thorny labor issue that had blocked a multiyear authorization for Federal Aviation Administration programs, including its Airport Improvement Program, or AIP, grants, which fund runways and other projects.

Those programs have been operating under a long series of stopgap bills since September 2007, when the last long-term FAA law expired. The 22nd extension is slated to lapse on Jan. 31.

Some issues remain to be worked out. One item is believed to be aid for rural air service. To provide time to resolve those points, a new extension lasting through Feb. 17 is moving in Congress. The House passed it on Jan. 24. Senate approval is expected. All hope it will be the last stopgap. A Hill source said, "We're ready to move quickly, and we're doing everything we can to wrap things up."

What broke the FAA bill stalemate was a deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to revise a 2010 National Mediation Board (NMB) rule governing unionization elections for airline workers.

Jane Calderwood, Airports Council International-North America vice president for government and political affairs, said, "It is good news that there has been a breakthrough—even if it was 10 months in the making—and we are eager to see the final bill language on key issues including funding … which directly impact ACI-NA's members."

The House passed a four-year FAA bill in February 2011. The Senate approved a two-year measure in April. One difference between the two bills was over AIP funding. The House measure provided about $3 billion a year; the Senate version averaged $4 billion annually.

Reid has said there is no reason the non-labor issues cannot be settled. All sides want to avoid last summer's standoff over an earlier stopgap. That fight halted dozens of airport construction projects and caused furloughs for 4,000 FAA workers.

The Reid-Boehner deal would settle a long-running battle over the NMB regulation. The House-passed bill would cancel the NMB rule, and the Senate version would retain it.

The agreement would alter NMB election procedures, raising to 50% from 35% the quorum of eligible voters needed to call an election to adopt a new union.

Unionization Elections

Further, runoff elections overseen by the NMB would include a no-union choice if that option is one of the top two vote-getters in the initial election. At present, a runoff can include only the top two vote-getting unions from the initial election. The deal also calls for public hearings for significant NMB rule-makings.

Stephen Sandherr, Associated General Contractors CEO, is pleased to see the major turn in the long FAA saga. He says, "Perhaps that bodes well for other infrastructure legislative programs, such as the highway and transit bill."