The House yesterday unanimously approved a bill that would provide a three-month extension of aviation programs, including airports’ ability to collect fees they use to back bonds. The bill also includes provisions that would change how some surface transportation funds are distributed.

Introduced Tuesday by Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and cosponsored by five House members, the bill would extend the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and its programs through July 3.

It would allow airports to continue to collect passenger facilities charges of up to $4.50, which they could use to repay bonds.

It also would provide $3 billion of airport improvement program funds for the period beginning Oct. 1, 2009, through July 3. Airports can use AIP funding to pay for projects but not to back debt.

The FAA and related aviation programs and taxes have been operating under stopgap measures for the past two-and-a-half years.

The current extension will expire at the end of March. The House approved a long-term reauthorization bill in May 2009 but the Senate has failed to follow suit.

The Senate yesterday was considering its own FAA extension measure, which includes a proposal for a pilot program that would allow a handful of airports to charge unlimited PFCs as long as the charges are separated from airline tickets. The Senate was expected to be considering amendments to the bill throughout the day.

The differences in the Senate and House bills would need to be resolved by a conference committee.

“Short-term extensions and uncertain funding levels can be disruptive [to] airports and local communities,” Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., said during debate on the House floor yesterday. “For eight months, we have been waiting on the [Senate] to bring a bill to the floor” to reauthorize FAA programs for several years, he added.

The House bill would resolve a dispute among some lawmakers over a bill the Senate approved and sent to President Obama yesterday.

The measure would extend current federal transportation programs through the end of the year, but authorized distribution of certain funds based on 2009 earmarks.

The House-approved bill would distribute $932 million grants for “projects of national and regional significance” and national corridor programs authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users program, among all states, based on their share of formula funds for fiscal 2009.

“Although the programs were designed as competitive, discretionary programs, during deliberations on the [SAFETEA-LU] bill in 2005, [Congress] decided to designate individual projects under each program,” the House Transportation Committee said in a summary of the bill.

“This approach distributes these funds only to states that had earmarks under these programs ... with four states receiving 58% of the funding and 22 states receiving nothing. This provision would create a permanent windfall for these four states, and would unfairly skew the highway formulas.”

Additionally, the bill would allow so-called bonus funds for highway programs to be distributed among all 13 of the programs in the country instead of just six of them.

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