With just over three months to go before the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorization expires, and a “D” grade for aviation in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the House and Senate committees released their bills yesterday to reauthorize the agency. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s bill, H.R. 2997, will be the more controversial of the two as it includes Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) divisive proposal to privatize air traffic control. Both bills increase funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the grant program that is the largest source of federal funding for aviation infrastructure, but neither modify the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). PFCs are fees airports can collect from departing passengers and use to fund federally-approved capital projects. Since 2000, the federal government has capped PFCs at $4.50 per enplanement, restricting local airports abilities to determine their own needs, raise necessary funds, and invest in their own infrastructure.
The House bill would reauthorize the FAA for six years. It would increase funding for AIP to $3.424 billion for FY18 (from the current level of $3.35 billion) and steadily increase to $3.817 in FY23. While leaving the PFC cap unchanged, the House bill modifies some of the rules governing how airports can use PFC revenue. The bill also increases funding for the Essential Air Service and includes reforms to the certification process for aircraft, as well as provisions related to noise, consumer protections, crew rest periods, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s bill, S. 1405, would reauthorize the FAA for four years. The bill would keep funding flat for the AIP program for FY18 at $3.35 billion, but would rise to $3.75 billion per year for FY19-2021. The Senate bill also modifies some of the rules governing how airports may spend the PFC funds. The bill also includes reforms to the certification process for aircraft, as well as provisions related to lithium batteries, consumer protections, crew rest periods and UAVs. The bill orders a number of studies including one on future aviation infrastructure and financing and one on all aspects of NextGen (FAA’s initiative to modernize air traffic control).
Both bills are scheduled to be marked up in their respective committees next week with the stated goal of full passage in July. The FAA’s current authorization won’t expire until September 30th, but Congress traditionally recesses for all of August, so the Senate is only scheduled to be in session for 37 days and the House for 30 days before time is up.