By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA 

House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) Feb. 3 released long-awaited legislation to reauthorize the federal aviation programs.  The “Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016”—the AIRR Act (H.R. 4441)—would authorize most programs through FY 2022, and completely overhaul the management of the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system.

The legislation proposes to increase the Airport Improvement Program (AIP)—the federal grant program for capital projects at airports—from $3.35 billion in FY 2016 to $3.817 billion by FY 2022.  This represents a 2.2 percent increase each year starting in FY 2017.  While AIP funding has been held at $3.35 billion since FY 2012, it should be noted the program was funded at the $3.5 billion annually from FY 2006 through FY 2011.  The AIRR Act yearly AIP average of $3.6 billion is slightly above this previous peak level.  A year-by-year breakdown of the proposed AIP funding levels:


Airport Improvement Program Authorization Levels in the AIRR Act

 Percentage Increase




FY 2016



FY 2017



FY 2018



FY 2019



FY 2020



FY 2021



FY 2022



ARTBA and other airport and construction industry stakeholders have advocated for years to not only increase AIP investment levels, but also to grant airports the authority to increase their Passenger Facility Charge (PFC).  The PFC is a separate method for medium and large airports to generate revenue to support capital improvements, although with broader project eligibility that includes terminal construction and other non-runway and taxiway improvements.  The AIRR Act, as expected, does not allow airports the option to increase the PFC, which some in Congress view as a ticket tax on passengers as it is charged per enplanement on commercial airline trips.

The vast majority of changes proposed by Shuster and LoBiondo in this legislation are focused on passenger safety and rights issues, as well as updating air traffic functions.  The bill proposes to create an “ATC Corporation” which would be a non-profit entity that would control the air traffic system with the goal of making it more efficient and able to faster implement modernization efforts.

House T&I Committee Democrats did not participate in the roll out of the AIRR Act.  Committee Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) signaled Democratic opposition to the air traffic control portion of the legislation by calling for “targeted reforms” of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Bipartisan opposition to Shuster’s air traffic control plan has also emerged from members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees—the panels that set annual FAA funding levels.  Leaders of those committees sent letters in recent days, prior to the release of the AIRR Act, stating their skepticism about privatizing the ATC and warning such a move would impede congressional oversight responsibilities.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), whose committee has jurisdiction over aviation legislation, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation have both remained agnostic on Shuster’s plan up to this point.  Thune has said he plans to allow the House to move first on FAA legislation.

The federal aviation programs are currently operating under a short-term extension through March 31.  Shuster plans to take up his proposal at a T&I committee meeting Feb. 11 and has signaled the measure could be considered by the full House soon after.  With an abridged legislative calendar due to the 2016 elections and less than two months before the extension expires, at least another short-term extension is likely.

ARTBA and its aviation stakeholder partners will continue to advocate for increased investment and resources to support needed airport improvements as the reauthorization process moves forward.