FAA reauthorization plan could be decided this month

 - February 27, 2009, 10:05 AM

The House aviation subcommittee held a hearing last month on an FAA reauthorization bill that is essentially a reintroduction of the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007,” which the full House of Representatives approved in September 2007. That legislation died at the end of last year because the Senate never followed through with its FAA reauthorization proposals.

Now titled the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009,” H.R.915 provides historic levels of funding (more than $70 billion) for the FAA’s programs, including $16.2 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP); nearly $13.4 billion for facilities and equipment; $1.35 billion for research, engineering and development; and $38.9 billion for FAA operations through 2012.

In introducing H.R.915, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, “I cannot stress enough the importance of moving this legislation quickly; airport development capital projects and key Next Generation Air Transportation System [NextGen] programs need the stability that a four-year bill provides.”

Oberstar, who has vowed to pass the bill this month, said historic funding levels authorized for the FAA’s facilities and equipment account will accelerate the implementation of ATC modernization and NextGen. “In addition, H.R.915 applies a comprehensive approach to NextGen, including more funding, authority, accountability and oversight,” he explained.

“It is my intention to move forward on reauthorizing the FAA as quickly as possible, given that we are already two years behind schedule,” echoed House aviation subcommittee chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.). He added that short-term funding extensions and continuing resolutions are delaying key NextGen and AIP capital projects.

To increase the authority and visibility of the FAA’s Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), H.R.915 elevates the director of the JPDO to the status of associate administrator for NextGen within the FAA, to be appointed by and reporting directly to the FAA Administrator.

“To increase accountability and coordination of NextGen planning and imp- lementation,” Costello said, “H.R.915 requires the JPDO to develop a work plan that details, year by year, specific NextGen-related deliverables and milestones required by the FAA and its partner agencies.”

General aviation groups testifying at the hearing on H.R.915 continued their drumbeat for aviation fuel taxes in lieu of operational user fees for FAA funding.
GA groups supported the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007,” which contained rejected operational user fees for FAA funding and proposed increases in fuel taxes to pay GA’s share of the FAA funding pie. The 2007 bill hiked the fuel taxes on jet-A from 21.8 cents per gallon to 35.9 cents and the tax on aviation gasoline from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon.

“We remain opposed to user fees because they are confusing and time-consuming to process, ripe for dispute and economically detrimental to the general aviation community,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.

“The bottom line for us is that we support the measure, we support the use of aviation fuel taxes as a means of support from our segment of the aviation community,” added AOPA president Craig Fuller. He noted that general aviation had agreed to do its share to support ATC modernization by accepting an increase in aviation fuel taxes rather than user fees.

Fuller pointed out that unlike past years, where the authorization bill has caused a furor among the various segments, the entire industry has supported the 2009 FAA funding bill. Bolen added that general aviation has been at the forefront of the ATC modernization program.