FAA funding headed for President’s OK

 - October 11, 2007, 5:25 AM

By the middle of last month, both houses of Congress had given preliminary approval to separate legislation that would reauthorize appropriations for the FAA. The House version is titled the Flight 100–Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (Flight 100-CARA) and covers the next four fiscal years, while the Senate version is named the Aviation Investment and Revitalization Vision Act (AIR-V) and would be for three years.

The House bill reauthorizes FAA funding at a total of $59 billion over fiscal years 2004 to 2007, while the Senate legislation would provide for a total of $45 billion over three years (FY 2004 to 2006). The Bush Administration also advocated a four-year FAA reauthorization for $57.3 billion.

At press time, the House aviation subcommittee had unanimously approved Flight 100-CARA and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee had passed AIR-V. The House still needed a vote of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee before sending its bill to the floor for debate and passage.

If both bills win approval, the differences will have to be ironed out in a conference committee before a reconciled version can be sent to the White House for President Bush’s signature.

The resulting legislation–regardless of what name it finally receives– will replace the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), which set spending levels and policies for the past three fiscal years. That expires on September 30, the last day of FY 2003.

“This four-year reauthorization bill builds on the landmark success of its predecessor, AIR-21,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. “It continues the procedural protections that ensure that all the taxes and revenues coming into the aviation trust fund from passengers and pilots are fully spent, and that airport improvements and air traffic control modernization are fully funded.”

Both bills reauthorize FAA programs, including agency operations, facilities and equipment and the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which funds safety and infrastructure improvements at the nation’s airports. They also contain reforms at the FAA, funds that assist smaller communities in maintaining vital air services and streamline the process for approving and constructing airport-capacity projects.

Unlike the Senate’s AIR-V, the House’s Flight 100-CARA authorizes $100 million to compensate general aviation entities hurt by security restrictions. But Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, has indicated the issue may be brought up later, perhaps as a floor amendment or in conference committee.

The bills also differ slightly in funding for the AIP. The House’s CARA-100 starts out with the Administration’s request of $3.4 billion in FY 2004, ramping up by $200 million in each subsequent year to $4 billion in FY 2007. The Senate’s AIR-V calls for $3.4 billion in FY 2004, $3.5 billion in 2005 and $3.6 billion in 2006.

Mica noted that his committee’s bill also redefines the role of the FAA’s COO. Neither former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey nor Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta had any success in recruiting a person to run the ATC system. At the same time, the bill also includes a provision that prohibits privatization of ATC.

Both bills extend the war-risk insurance program for airlines. The House version makes it permanent for international service and extends it to 2007 for domestic service. In the Senate, the extension for the airlines would run until 2006. Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) were successful with an amendment to provide terrorism insurance for certain aircraft and engine manufacturers, while the House allows the DOT to extend war-risk insurance to aircraft manufacturers and airline vendors.

Both bills also contain language to authorize the development of a communications and weather infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, sought by the Helicopter Association International (HAI) and others. The House version also includes language for the establishment of “helicopter and tiltrotor approach and departure procedures” using advanced technologies such as GPS and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) to permit operations in adverse weather conditions to meet the needs of air ambulance services.

Both bills have bipartisan support in their respective chambers. The Senate’s AIR-V was introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), the ranking Democrat on the full committee; Lott; and John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the ranking member of the subcommittee.

The four pushed through an amendment to add many of the research provisions passed by the Senate last year in the aviation research and development bill; authorize the contract control tower program FY 2004 through 2006; require the FAA to report to Congress on its major modernization projects; and authorize new Essential Air Service pilot programs to increase ridership and reduce costs associated with the program.

The House bill was sponsored by Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Mica; James Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking Democrat of the full committee; and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking Democrat on the aviation subcommittee.

Other similarities in the two pieces of legislation would increase the number of number of slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and require FAA certification of flight attendants.