SAFETEA-LU isn’t the only key construction measure heading toward a deadline--airport construction grants and other Federal Aviation Administration programs are set to expire on March 31.

The good news is that a two-year, $34.6-billion FAA reauthorization finally has made it to the Senate floor, more than seven months after it cleared committee.

Floor amendments remain to be considered, but Jane Calderwood, Airports Council International-North America vice-president for government and political affairs, is hopeful that the Senate will pass the bill in the next several days

That would set up a conference with the House, which passed a three-year, $53.5-billion measure in May 2009.

For construction, the Senate bill’s critical element is the bill’s $8.1- billion, two-year authorization for FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which finances infrastructure projects. Of the $8.1 billion, $4 billion would be authorized in 2010 and the other $4.1 billion in 2011.

The House bill has the same AIP numbers for 2010 and 2011.

But the bills differ on passenger facility charges (PFCs), another important funding source for airport construction projects.

The House bill would hike the PFC cap to $7, from $4.50 now. The bill pending in the Senate would remove the PFC cap altogether for six to-be-determined airports, but otherwise leave the limit at $4.50. 

If the two chambers are unable to finish reconciling their respective bills by March 31, another extension is virtually assured.

FAA programs have been operating under a series of stopgaps, since the last multi-year aviation bill expired in 2007. The current extension, which lapses March 31, is the 11th in that series, says Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

The airports council’s Calderwood says, “For an airport, when you have all these short-term extensions it’s very difficult to do your long-term plans and your construction projects….”

She notes that the last long-term FAA bill was approved back in 2003, and says, “We need a new bill that addresses the problems we face today and the foreseeable problems we’ll face into the next couple of years.”