After Congress failed to pass a new stopgap Federal Aviation Administration bill, the FAA has issued stop-work orders on about 60 airport engineering and construction contracts, totaling more than $670 million, around the country.

The congressional inaction also has forced a halt to awards of new FAA airport-contraction grants.

A short-term FAA bill lapsed at midnight July 22, triggering the project shutdowns and furloughs of about 4,000 of FAA's 47,000 employees.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters in a July 25 conference call that besides the stop-work orders, "In addition, $2.5 billion for airport construction projects in all 50 states, that could put thousands of people to work in good-paying jobs, will not go out the door."

Most of those prospective projects are seeking FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) construction grants.

FAA released a list of projects for which it has issued stop-work orders, along withthe names of the affected engineering and construction firms.

The largest engineering or construction contract by far is a $370-million umbrella architect-engineering contract to Jacobs Engineering, covering air traffic control centers and other facilities in eight states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Also on the list are 59 construction contracts. The largest are: a $56-million new control tower in Memphis, to be built by Flintco Inc.; a $43.4-million new tower in Las Vegas (Archer Western Contractors); and a $31-million tower in Oakland, Calif. (Devon Construction Inc.).

The House on July 20 had passed a measure to extend airport grants and other FAA programs through Sept. 16, but Senate Democrats on July 22 objected to a House provision limiting subsidies for air service to rural airports and blocked the bill.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) then sought to have the chamber approve a "clean" extension, without the rural air subsidy language or other policy provisions, but a senior Republican, Orrin Hatch (Utah), blocked that move. The Senate later adjourned, prompting FAA's furloughs and stop-work orders and shutdown of the AIP program.

AIP funds are a more critical infrastructure financing source for smaller airports than for large hubs, which have greater capacity to tap the bond market to fund capital projects.

For more specifics on the AIP shutdown, see this informative post on an Airports Council International-North America blog by Jane Calderwood, ACI-NA's vice president for government and political affairs.

As a result of the expired authorization, FAA also will furlough about 3,600 of its employees, according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Democrats.
The stalemate pits the Obama administration and Senate Democrats, such as  commerce committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), against House Republicans, such as Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (Fla.).

For more than three years, the House and Senate have been unable to agree on a long-term FAA authorization bill.

There have been 20 stopgaps to keep FAA programs operating s
ince Sept. 30, 2007, when the last multi-year aviation statute expired. Those short-term measures generally have been non-controversial bills that just extended authorizations and aviation taxes.

But Mica's latest proposed stopgap, which the House passed on July 20 on a 243-177 generally party-line vote, broke with that pattern. He included provisions to trim the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which provides subsidies for flights to rural airports. The White House opposes the House bill.

LaHood said in his July 25 press briefing, "There is no excuse for Congress failing to pass a clean FAA bill the way they have done on 20 other occasions."

Mica says the House bill would cap federal EAS subsidies at $1,000 per flight, a move that would delete three airports from the list of those eligible for such funds. They are: Ely, Nev., whose subsidy is $3,720 per passenger, according to Mica; Alamogordo/Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., ($1,563 subsidy); and Glendive, Mont. ($1,358 subsidy).

Mica says that subsidy cap would save an annualized total of $4.1 million.

His bill also would make another change in the air subsidy program, restricting eligibility to airports that are at least 90 miles from large or medium hub airports--but that was included in a long-term FAA bill that the Senate approved earlier this year.

Mica blamed the Senate for the failure to extend FAA programs. He said, "In light of the nation’s pending financial disaster and soaring deficits, they couldn’t find a way to cut even a few million dollars by accepting this minor request to reduce outlandish subsidies."

Rockefeller blamed the House, saying, "I am disappointed and stunned by their failure. We had negotiated in good faith for four months, but when senior members of the House leadership admitted that they would try to gain political 'leverage' over the Senate, they effectively turned the aviation system into a political prop."