By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

The House of Representatives Sept. 26 passed 398 to 23 a bipartisan, House-Senate compromise on a five-year aviation reauthorization bill that would fail to increase Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding. The package would keep AIP investment at $3.35 billion per year through FY 2023—yielding 12 years of stagnation for the core federal airport construction program.

The $3.35 billion is below the levels previously approved by the full House of Representatives and Senate Commerce Committee. This decision by aviation bill negotiators is especially concerning in light of the program receiving $3.52 billion from 2006 through 2011. ARTBA and the ARTBA co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) expressed disappointment over the proposal’s failure to address airport infrastructure challenges in separate letters this week. Read the ARTBA letter. Read the TCC letter.

The legislation would authorize roughly $1 billion per year in General Fund appropriations for a discretionary grant program for airport construction projects. This provision embraces what congressional appropriators and leadership began early in 2018 when they finalized a two-year budget deal that included $10 billion per year in additional infrastructure investments in FY 2018 and FY 2019.  The FY 2018 appropriations process delivered, among other infrastructure enhancements, $1 billion in supplemental airport grants.  While additional airport funding is expected in FY 2019, there is no guarantee a budget deal of the same scope and magnitude will be agreed to for 2020 and beyond.

The aviation package essentially locks in the status quo and provides a symbolic opening for increased airport investment if other congressional committees make additional resources available. If appropriators are able to follow through on the promises in this bill airport funding will look like the following:

 

      Aviation Bill Airport Capital Funding

 
 

(Billions of Dollars)

   
Fiscal Year AIP Funding Additional General Funds Total
2019 $3.35 $1.02 $4.37
2020 $3.35 $1.04 $4.39
2021 $3.35 $1.06 $4.41
2022 $3.35 $1.09 $4.44
2023 $3.35 $1.11 $4.46
2019-2023 $16.75 $5.32 $22.07

Negotiators failed to increase the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) fee cap from the $4.50 it has been held at since its creation in the year 2000. Airports and other stakeholders, including ARTBA, have called on congress for years to either increase or uncap the user fee charged to ticket purchasers at commercial airports for capital and terminal construction projects.

The agreed-upon bill is expected to pass the Senate the week of Oct. 1. The House Sept. 27 cleared an extension of the current aviation authorization law for one week beyond its Sept. 30 expiration to give the Senate the necessary time to pass the five-year bill, if needed.

ARTBA will continue to urge all members of Congress in the coming years to deliver additional airport infrastructure investment through direct appropriations and a removal of the federal limitation on locally-imposed Passenger Facility Charges.