During the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s long Feb. 11 voting session on a new Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, the panel agreed to put an additional $1 billion into the measure for the agency’s Airport Improvement Program construction grants.
Among the amendments that the panel approved to Chairman Bill Shuster’s original bill—the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization, or AIRR, Act—was a proposal from Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) to increase AIP funding to $22.7 billion, a 4.8% hike from Shuster’s proposal.
Shuster’s initial AIRR bill did boost AIP over current levels—the program’s 2016 appropriation is $3.35 billion. The chairman’s plan called for 2.2% annual increases, starting at $3.4 billion in fiscal 2017 and climbing to $3.8 billion in 2022, the bill’s last year.
Barletta’s amendment would go further, setting AIP authorizations at $3.6 billion in 2017 and then going up by an average of 4.8% a year from Shuster’s numbers, to slightly less than $4 billion in 2022 .
The vote in committee was a solid 47-12, with Shuster one of the “no” votes. The legislation next goes to the House floor for a vote.
Much of the debate over the AIRR Act has centered on Shuster’s proposal to spin off FAA’s air traffic control operations into a nonfederal, nonprofit entity. The plan, which remained in the bill after the committee’s markup, has support from the air traffic controllers’ union but also has opponents, including the committee’s top Democrat, Peter DeFazio (Ore.), and some other aviation groups.
Compared to the ATC provision, the Barletta amendment has flown under the radar but it’s important to construction and airport officials.
Even if Barletta’s additional $1 billion survives a House floor vote—and the committee’s strong vote indicates that’s likely—its funding is by no means assured.
Construction and airport groups are waiting for Senate commerce committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) to introduce his FAA reauthorization proposal and see what numbers he will recommend for AIP. It will be up to appropriations committees, however, to set AIP’s actual annual funding.
Dave Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president, said in a Feb. 11 statement that Barletta's authorization levels “would assure federal airport capital grants would keep pace with both projected inflation and construction materials cost increases over the next six years.”
Barletta said in a Feb. 12 statement that AIP “invests in the most basic infrastructure projects. We’re talking about runways, taxiways, noise reduction and safety and emergency equipment.”
He also noted, “Our small- and medium-sized airports heavily rely on this program.” AIP indeed represents a larger share of such airports’ capital budgets than major hubs' programs, which make greater use of the bond market to finance infrastructure projects.
The American Association of Airport Executives praised Barletta's successful effort to increase AIP funding, Adam Snider, AAAE director of public affairs, said in an email.
Snider added, "While a positive step forward, federal funding can only go so far, which is why AAAE and our partners continue to push Congress for local self-help to airports through an updated federal cap on local passenger facility charges." PFCs, which also help fund airport infrastructure, are limited to $4.50 per flight segment, a level that was set in 2000.