The House has approved a four-year aviation bill that cuts authorizations for federal airport construction grants.
House lawmakers next will take their bill into negotiations with the Senate, which in February approved a two-year aviation bill that is more generous to the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which provides infrastructure grants.
The House Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, approved on April 1 on a 223-196 vote, slices AIP to an annual average of about $3.2 billion. The measure that the Senate passed in February averages about $4 billion a year for the construction grant program.
The current AIP appropriation is slightly more $3.5 billion.
Airport and construction groups had been seeking an increase in the current $4.50 cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs), which are another important funding source for airport construction projects.
But the House bill keeps the cap at $4.50. So does the Senate version, except for a pilot program at six to-be-designated airports, which would have no limit on PFC levels.
The passage of the House bill essentially brings the legislative situation back to where it was last fall, when House and Senate conferees were trying to reconcile differences between the multi-year FAA bills each chamber had approved.
But the two sides were unable to reach a compromise agreement and the bills died when the 111th Congress ended.
For construction, the key difference this time is that the newly passed House bill is much tougher on construction-related programs--it cuts AIP levels and freezes PFCs.
The bill the House approved in the last Congress set AIP at about $4 billion a year and allowed a hike in PFCs.
The stalemate over a new long-term FAA bill stretches back to September 2007, when the last multi-year aviation measure expired.
Since then, AIP and other FAA programs have continued to operate under a series of short-term extensions. The latest stopgap--the 18th since 2007--was signed into law on March 31. It carries aviation programs through the end of May.