In a positive—and long-awaited—development for airport construction, the U.S. Senate recently approved, by an overwhelming 95-3 vote, legislation that would extend the federal airport program. The bill features a big increase in construction grants.
However, the Senate-passed bill’s extension would only last for 18 months, through Sept. 30, 2017. This is in contrast to the U.S. House bill’s six-year reform effort. The House version is awaiting a floor vote before a House-Senate conference can reconcile the differences and a bill can go to the White House for signature SMACNA has long promoted a multi-year extension and increase in airport infrastructure support.
Congress must reauthorize FAA programs, even temporarily, by July 15, when a stopgap measure expires. The Senate legislation, sponsored by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) addresses overdue needs in a number of key construction infrastructure programs.
On the plus side, it increases FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants 12 percent, to $3.75 billion, in 2017. AIP aid helps fund runways, terminals, and other airport building upgrades to facility infrastructure.
SMACNA supports funding for airport construction projects
But the bill doesn’t raise the $4.50 cap on passenger facility charges (PFC), which airports also use to pay for construction projects. SMACNA and the Beyond the Runway Coalition of contractors, airports, and related airport construction groups have been supporting local airport authorities in their call for a higher optional ceiling to increase the PFC ceiling, which last was increased in 2000.
Airport authorities are not required to increase their PFC levels to the current $4.50 level, but decide locally on airport construction needs and set their PFC accordingly. Billions of dollars in proposed airport improvements, expansions, and renovations depend on a higher ceiling for the PFC set in federal law, which is gaining support in Congress as the debate continues, with many supporting a new optional ceiling.
In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee cleared a six-year FAA bill that raises AIP funding 7 percent in 2017 to $3.6 billion. It also has further annual hikes, to a peak of just less than $4 billion in 2022. But the House bill, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization, or AIRR Act, has yet to have a floor vote, needed before the all-important FAA Infrastructure bill can advance to conference.
SMACNA has been a very active organization in the airport construction coalition on Capitol Hill and its firms are featured on airport renovation, retrofit, and expansions throughout the nation.