Omnibus is not omnipotent

 - March 28, 2007, 10:11 AM

The $328 billion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress to fund most federal agencies for the remainder of fiscal year 2004 (until September 30) failed to provide the $100 million authorized for general aviation businesses hurt by 9/11. But, as they say in the sports world, there’s always next year.

Although the recent FAA reauthorization–Vision 100–earmarked the money for GA relief, the 2004 omnibus appropriations bill did not provide the money to fulfill that particular vision. There is a chance for that to be corrected in the FY 2005 transportation appropriations process, but the outlook is not promising due to budget deficits and demands for the war on terrorism and the domestic agenda.

Unlike the FAA reauthorization bill, which runs through FY 2007, appropriations bills need to be approved annually. Authorization/reauthorization bills establish or continue the operation of a federal program or agency for either a specific or an indefinite period of time. While they also set spending guidelines, it is up to the powerful Appropriations Committee members to actually determine the monetary amounts.

The catchall omnibus bill provides funding for the FAA and other federal agencies, including FAA operations, facilities and equipment, research and development and airport improvement grant money. It also provides capital for new initiatives in the areas of aviation security, safety and FAA management reform.

The FAA is normally funded under the transportation appropriations bill, but this year it was lumped into the omnibus spending bill because Congress could not agree on seven of 13 appropriations bills for various government agencies that had been operating on last year’s budgets since October 1. The resulting $328 billion spending package added some provisions and deleted others, while larding the entire package with pork-barrel projects. But that’s another story.

One provision that rankled the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) was an extension on the ban on stadium flyovers, even though it permits the DOT to grant waivers or extensions for flights linked directly to the event, for broadcasters transmitting pictures from overhead or when a flyover is necessary to get an airplane to or from an airport. NATA said it is concerned about the banner-tower prohibition extension and its adverse effect on this segment of the aviation industry.

AOPA said it was pleased with the 2004 omnibus appropriations bill, even though it failed to provide any money for GA relief, which was included in the original transportation appropriations bill before it was folded into the giant spending measure.

“The bill fully funds the Airport Improvement Program, including $341 million for general aviation airports,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior v-p of government and technical affairs. “And AOPA’s hard work paid off because for the first time airports can use those funds for hangar construction.”

The bill also prohibits the FAA from spending any of this year’s money “to finalize or implement any regulation that would promulgate new aviation user fees,” and it contains $3 million for the FAA to continue to develop ILS-like GPS approaches at GA airports using the wide-area augmentation system (WAAS). Because of the benefits WAAS provides GA pilots, AOPA has pressed the FAA to continue its development and deployment, despite airline indifference.

The FAA appropriation also includes funding for the agency’s long-range Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), and it directs the FAA to ensure that enhancements benefiting GA are part of the OEP.