Stalemate continues on FAA funding plan

 - May 29, 2008, 10:59 AM

The Senate bill to reauthorize and fund the FAA for the next four years was once again stalled on the tarmac last month because of procedural infighting between Republicans and Democrats.

After a surprise compromise that would create no new user fees, lobbyists thought the Senate version of FAA reauthorization was on its way to quick passage. But senators quickly got into a line with amendments to the measure, some of which had nothing to do with aviation.

When an attempt to close off debate on the Senate bill (S.1300) failed, the proposal was pulled from the Senate floor and put on indefinite hold. The Helicopter Association International (HAI) reported that lawmakers were beginning to prepare an extension of the current FAA authorization that would last through the fall of next year.

Such an extension could threaten the funding compromise on user fees because unenacted bills die at the end of this session of Congress later this year, so lawmakers essentially would be starting from scratch on the legislation next year.

Congress has extended aviation funding and taxes four times since it initially expired at the end of September 2007. The Senate measure that is now in a holding pattern dropped a $25-per-flight fee on jets and most turboprops that had been originally included by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. While it increases the tax on jet fuel from 21.9 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon, there is no tax increase on aviation gasoline. All other existing passenger ticket taxes, segment fees and cargo waybill taxes would remain intact, and no new user fees are included in the bill.

In Search of Consensus

General aviation leaders and others expressed varying degrees of disappointment at the Senate maneuvering and urged the body to continue an attempt to reach agreement.

“Given the importance of air transportation to our nation’s economy and citizens’ quality of life, we hope the Senate will recommit itself to passing an FAA reauthorization bill this year,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that the Senate was not able to approve the FAA reauthorization over the last week,” National Air Transportation Association president Jim Coyne said on May 7. “We are hopeful that as the June 30 expiration looms the Senate will get this bill back on track and passed as quickly as possible.”

“AOPA is disappointed that after so much work to reach compromise on the financing, it was derailed by other issues,” said association president Phil Boyer. “Our hope is that the Senate will be able to reach agreement on this crucial legislation… and pass a bill that funds the FAA, including the Airport Improvement Program and ATC modernization, and does so using the current tax-based funding system.”

But industry officials weren’t the only people disappointed. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, called the Senate vote “a huge disappointment and represents a real missed opportunity.” The House passed FAA reauthorization legislation last September.

According to HAI, the bill could be brought back to the floor one more time before the end of this month.