Senate Passes Long-Term Aviation Bill

Article excerpt

Long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration may soon be a reality and a relief for cities. Last week, the Senate passed the Air Transportation Improvement Act of 1999 (S. 82), which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last spring. Now, the Senate is preparing for a quick, but confrontational conference with the House of Representatives. The House passed their version of the FAA legislation, the Airport Investment Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21), in mid-June.

The Senate bill authorizes $45 billion over four years to fund FAA programs, operations, and airport grants. Specifically, the legislation includes:

* $2.4 billion per year for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP);

* $5.6 billion for FAA operations in the first year with an increase to $6.3 billion by FY2002;

* $150 million for FAA research programs which would also grow over the four years to nearly $200 million; and

* $2.15 billion for the FAA's facilities and equipment account.

Two important measures from the House AIR 21 legislation, supported by NLC, were not included in the Senate bill. First, Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), was expected to offer an amendment to allow state airport authorities to increase Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) from $3 per passenger to up to $6. Sen. Hollings did not offer his amendment, even with the Administration's own FAA reauthorization proposal also containing an increase in PFCs to $5 per passenger.

Second, the Senate did not take up the issue of removing the Airport and Airways Trust Fund from the unified federal budget. The so-called "off-budget" proposal, which links the intake of aviation taxes to spending on aviation programs, has been a long time goal of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa. …