House and Senate Pass Competing Extensions
This week, the Senate Commerce Committee passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016. The nearly two-year authorization provides a $400 million increase in 2017 for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) but does not lift the volume cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) program. The AIP and PFC are the main funding and financing mechanisms for airport and runway infrastructure projects. Prior to the committee’s consideration, AGC sent a letter supporting the increase in the AIP and asking for the Senate to consider an increase in the PFC as the legislative process moves forward.
The bill – which enjoyed bipartisan support – did not include privatization of the nation’s air traffic control operations. In addition, it also went a bit further than the House in terms of reforms to policy dealing with drones. Specifically, the Senate bill would mandate the FAA create risk-based, consensus industry standards for drones, including a streamlined certification process for smaller drones. The bill would also reauthorize and expand exemption authority for FAA to authorize operations in the national airspace – it also makes explicit the FAA has the authority to approve nighttime and beyond-line-of-sight operations (a position supported by AGC).
Earlier this week, the House passed a three and a half-month extension of the current FAA authorization and related aviation taxes for one year. The Senate opposed the tax piece of the House extension and passed their own four-month extension of the current authorization and related taxes. The Senate has adjourned until April 4, so with the current extension expiring on March 31, the House must either pass the Senate bill or risk a lapse in FAA programs.
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