The US House of Representatives voted to extend the excruciating limbo that is the Federal Aviation Administration budget when it extended current funding through to the end of March with HR 4217. The industry has been waiting for a new FAA reauthorization bill since 2007 and the current continuing resolution expires at the end of the month. Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, Part II was approved by voice vote. A similar measure is expected in the Senate shortly.
Earlier this year the two houses proposed their own versions of reauthorization keeping them at two years pending the Obama Administration presenting its own bill. However, all legislation save economic rescue packages and health care have been shoved to the back burner in what is increasingly looking like a one-or-two annual legislative agenda for Congress. The House managed to pass its version introduced in February last May, the Senate, which introduced its reauthorization legislation last summer, did not.
“The FAA has been operating under a string of short-term extensions for over two years since the last FAA reauthorization bill expired,” said Senate Aviation Subcommittee Chair Jerry Costello (D-IL). “Short-term extensions and uncertain funding levels can be disruptive to the aviation industry and communities because they do not allow them to plan for long-term growth. Frankly, every month that goes by without a long-term FAA authorization is a lost opportunity to improve aviation safety, security, and to create and maintain jobs around the country.”
In a statement that clearly chastised the Senate for its lack of ability to advance beyond a proposed bill, Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Jerry F. Costello (Ill.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation outline the main points of the continuing resolution.
HR 4217 provides USD2 billion in contract authority for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) through the end of March. This USD2 billion will enable airports to move forward with important safety and capacity projects. When annualized, this level of AIP funding equals USD4 billion, which is consistent with both the House and Senate FAA reauthorization bills, and the FY 2010 Concurrent Budget Resolution.
The bill also authorizes appropriations for FAA Operations, Facilities and Equipment (F&E), and Research, Engineering, and Development (RE&D) programs, consistent with average funding levels of the FY 2010 House-approved appropriations bill and the Senate-approved appropriations bill.
HR 4217 also extends the aviation excise taxes through to 31-Mar-2010. These taxes are necessary to support the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which funds a substantial portion of the FAA’s budget. With an uncommitted cash balance of just USD251 million at the end of FY 2009, any lapse in the aviation taxes could put the solvency of the Trust Fund at risk.
In addition to extending the aviation taxes, HR 4217 extends the FAA’s authority to make expenditures from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund through to March 2010.