House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a four-year measure authorizing $63.6 billion for Federal Aviation Administration programs, including FAA's Airport Improvement Program (AIP) construction grants. Once the measure is enacted, it would bring an end to more than four years of short-term authorizations for AIP and other FAA programs.

News of the House-Senate deal came at a meeting of conferees late in the afternoon of Jan. 31. The final conference report was filed about mid-day on Feb. 1, a Senate staffer said. The measure next goes to the full House and Senate for final congressional votes.

The final legislation authorizes a total of $13.4 billion for AIP grants, or $3.35 billion a year, which equals AIP's 2012 appropriation.

That amount is partway between the $3-billion annual level in the FAA bill that the House passed last April and the $4 billion per year in the version the Senate approved in February 2011.

Greg Principato, Airports Council International-North America president, said, "Congress missed an opportunity by failing to accept the AIP funding levels provided in the Senate-passed bill which would have helped improve the infrastructure that serves as the backbone of the aviation system...."

On another important issue for construction, negotiators kept the limit on passenger facility charges (PFCs) at the current $4.50 level. PFCs are another important revenue source for airport infrastructure projects, with total collections in 2011 of $2.7 billion, according to FAA estimates. Principato said his group is "deeply disappointed" with the conferees' decision on PFCs.

Problems over a provision dealing with unionization elections and other issues had tied up a multi-year bill since Sept. 30, 2007, when the last long-term FAA bill expired.

In the meantime, Congress kept FAA programs operating though a series of generally short stopgaps. Airport officials have said the installment-plan funding hampered their long-range construction planning, because they had no assurance of how much federal funding would be in place for multi-year projects.

The current FAA extension, which President Obama signed on Jan. 31, is the 23rd in that series of stopgaps.