WASHINGTON – Smaller, non-hub airports in rural areas were the big winners in the fight for additional infrastructure spending in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill passed by the House last week.
The five-year Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 that passed the House Friday by an overwhelming 393-13 margin authorizes a $1 billion annual increase in funding for this new program.
The initial $1 billion was included in the larger $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2018 approved by Congress in late March.
The 2018 omnibus calls for a $10 billion increase in overall infrastructure spending this year, including the $1 billion for smaller airports, and another $10 billion in fiscal 2019 beginning Oct. 1. Details on how the 2019 infrastructure money will be spent are being worked out by House and Senate appropriators.
Hub airports and general aviation airports located in metropolitan areas missed out on the additional funding they were hoping for because the House FAA legislation doesn’t change the cap on Passenger Facility Charges.
The House bill sets annual authority for the Airport Improvement Program at level funding of $3.35 billion annually through 2023.
“This is a lost opportunity for airports to be able to meet their own local unique demands which are pressing across the country,” T.J. Schulz, president of the Airport Consultants Council, said in a phone interview. “PFC funds are used to finance critical capacity projects and address the fact that a number of airport facilities are 40 years and older and have to be refurbished.”
Airports have almost $100 billion in infrastructure needs through 2021, according to Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International - North America, and Todd Hauptli, president and CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives.
Burke and Hauptli said in a joint statement that the House legislation represents a significant missed opportunity.
"While the administration and Congress continue to talk about infrastructure investment, much more needs to be done to address the systemic funding problems that put airports of all sizes at a significant disadvantage for modernizing their facilities to meet the needs of air passengers and local communities,” Burke and Hauptli said. “Unfortunately this bill is not the impactful infrastructure plan the aviation industry desperately needs at this critical juncture."
Airport advocates still have a chance to get the cap increased by the Senate, but the bill that is expected to come to the floor by the end of May doesn’t have any change in PFC at this point.
The Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation approved its bill (S. 1401) last year and it has been awaiting consideration by the full Senate.
The new infrastructure program for smaller airports requires the 2018 money to be awarded by the end of fiscal 2020, according to Schulz. “Project construction can continue after that date but FAA has to award projects by that date,” he said.
Airports Council International said the new program relies on general funds instead of funding directly from the Airport and Airways Trust Fund, raising concerns about its long-term viability.
ACI also said the new grant program will not help airports meet their terminal needs, which account for 60% of the nearly $100 billion in overall airport infrastructure needs.