There are just 73 days remaining until the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization expires. Reauthorizing legislation has been in the works for months, but has a long way to go before it lands on the President’s desk. The FAA’s current authorization was set to expire March 31, but Congress bought itself some extra time by passing a bill in March to extend the authorization to July 15. Last month the U.S. Senate passed a $33 billion bill (HR 636) to reauthorize the FAA until September 30, 2017, but the U.S. House of Representatives has not taken action on it yet. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) own FAA reauthorization bill (HR 4441) in February, but the bill did not progress on the House floor. That bill contained Rep. Shuster’s controversial proposal to split off the FAA’s air traffic control operations into a private, nonprofit organization. Rep. Shuster has said he is still interested in pursuing air traffic control privatization, but will need a few more weeks to decide how to proceed.
HR 636 increases funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the federal grant program that is one of the principle sources of funding for airport capital improvements, from $3.35 billion to $3.75 billion for FY17. The bill does not modify the $4.50 cap on Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). PFCs are fees airports can collect from every departing passenger and use to fund federally approved capital improvement projects. The current cap has not been changed since 2001 and infrastructure advocates, including ASCE, have called for the cap to be increased or removed so that airports can invest in their own facilities.
ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s aviation system a D. America’s aviation infrastructure has not kept pace with its residents’ appetite for air travel. Commercial enplanements were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000. Outdated and insufficient aviation infrastructure costs Americans households and businesses money. The FAA estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. In order to ensure American travelers and goods can continue to move around the country quickly and efficiently, the U.S. needs to invest far more in its aviation infrastructure. The latest Airports Council International–North America (ACI-NA) Capital Needs Survey estimates airports will have $75.7 billion in capital needs between 2015 and 2019. HR 636’s provisions to increase funding for the AIP would help airports make some of the investments they need.