By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA 

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) today introduced legislation that would increase Airport Improvement Program (AIP) investment by $400 million in FY 2017. The “Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016” would reauthorization the aviation program for the remainder of the current year and through FY 2017. The bipartisan legislation has been in the works for some time and would make numerous policy changes relating to drones, passenger rights, airline transparency and numerous other aspects of the flying experience. It would not, however, lead to the privatization of air traffic control functions as does its House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee-approved counterpart.

The measure would retain AIP investment at $3.35 billion in FY 2016, marking the fifth straight year at this level of spending. However, the Senate bill would then boost AIP funding to $3.75 billion in FY 2017—a 12 percent increase. The legislation also contains a provision that would clarify AIP funds could be used for surface transportation projects on airport property to cover the portion of the project costs attributed directly to airport users.

ARTBA provided all members of the Senate Commerce Committee with a fact sheet demonstrating their state-specific benefits from AIP investment. ARTBA also shared with committee members the documented airport infrastructure needs that would require an average annual investment of $6.7 billion—roughly twice the current AIP investment. While the Senate proposal should be applauded from attempting to break a five-year cycle of stagnant federal support for airport infrastructure improvements, ARTBA will continue pushing for similar investment increases in subsequent years.

Despite recent reports to the contrary, the measure would not increase the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap– a user fee charged for each enplanement during a flyers trip at the discretion of each airport. The PFC has been $4.50 since 2000. The legislation does include a provision to streamline the PFC project application process and would allow the FAA to authorize PFC revenues to be used for intermodal ground transportation projects directly related to delivering passengers to and from airports. It remains to be seen if an amendment to raise the PFC cap will be offered either during committee or full Senate consideration of the aviation reauthorization bill.

Thune’s committee is tentatively set to take up the legislation March 16. The aviation programs are currently operating under a six-month extension that expires March 31. Details of the next extension have not been released, but both Thune and T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa. have publicly discussed a three-month extension to keep the pressure on Congress to finish a multi-year bill in 2016.