by Dave Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA

The federal aviation programs March 16 got one step closer to their first overhaul in five years as the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) secured committee passage of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016, S. 2658. The legislation, if enacted, would run through FY 2017 and authorize funding for air traffic control operations and aviation system modernization.  Additionally, the bill calls for a 12 percent ($400 million) increase in capital infrastructure improvements via the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

The AIP is a grant program used for physical infrastructure projects—mainly runways and taxiways—at airports.  For the past five years, investment levels have been held to $3.35 billion. The Senate proposal would provide $3.75 billion for the program in FY 2017.  The bill, however, does not include an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC)—another infrastructure investment tool used by airports to support capital projects. The cap for this charge has been held at $4.50 for every passenger boarding since 2000.  ARTBA President and CEO Pete Ruane wrote March 15 to Thune and Nelson to support both an increase in AIP funding and the lifting of the PFC cap.

Chairman Thune has said he hopes the full Senate will take up the aviation measure in April.  While the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee passed its own aviation reauthorization proposal in February, House floor consideration for that measure has not been scheduled.

The aviation programs are currently operating under a short-term extension that expires March 31. The House and Senate are expected to approve this week another extension of the programs through July 15.

ARTBA staff will continue to work with both the House and Senate as the process moves forward to ensure additional capital funding resources are included in the final law.