House and Senate transportation lawmakers are considering extending the laws that finance and authorize Federal Aviation Administration programs through March to provide additional time to finish work on a longer-term FAA bill, lobbyists said recently. “Both the House and Senate folks are thinking about a six-month extension, but it remains to be seen what they would do,” one observer said yesterday.Another lobbyist earlier this week said: “I know there have been conversations between House [Transportation and Infrastructure Committee] staff and Senate [Commerce Committee] staff on doing a six-month authorization.”The laws that fund and authorize FAA programs expired at the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, and have since been temporarily extended twice, as part of legislation funding all government programs until Congress finishes work on 11 remaining annual appropriations bills. The current stop-gap measure expires Dec. 14.If lawmakers can agree on the six month extension for FAA programs — which would cover the three months since the laws initially expired in October and an additional three months — they probably would pass that separately rather than include it as part of the stop-gap funding measure covering all government programs, one of the lobbyists said. The first opportunity for Congress to approve an extension would be the week of Dec. 3, when it returns from its Thanksgiving recess.Earlier this month the House approved rural air service legislation that included provision to extend the FAA laws through the end of the year. But the bill was held up in the Senate and momentum seems to be growing behind a six-month extension, lobbyists said.In the Senate, FAA legislation approved by the Finance Committee in September included a raft of provisions to boost funding for the FAA, including one that would raise the jet fuel tax for general aviation to 36 cents per gallon from 21.8 cents. But the bill differed from legislation approved in May by the Commerce Committee, which oversees FAA policy, because the Finance Committee’s measure did not include a $25 fee per flight for commercial and high-end general aviation jet flights. Differences between the two bills must be reconciled before a single measure can be debated on the Senate floor.The Senate action came as the House passed its FAA bill in late September, which included a provision that would boost to $7 from $4.50 the surcharge that airports tack onto airfares to help pay for improvements. Larger airports with high passenger levels typically levy the passenger facility charge and often use the revenue to repay bonds issued for improvements. No such provision was included in the Senate Commerce Committee’s bill.However, both the House measure and the Commerce Committee bill would authorize $15.8 billion over four years for the FAA’s airport improvement program. The AIP provides grants to the nation’s airports to fund modernization projects. The grants are sometimes used to back tax-exempt bonds, but more often are used to augment other funding sources. Medium and smaller airports tend to rely more on AIP funds than on PFCs and bonds because of lower passenger levels.
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