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House Committee Passes FAA Bill

A proposal that would establish an independent, not-for-profit entity to manage the nation’s Air Traffic Control operations is part of a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill that passed in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday.

The vote was 32 to 26.

The Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act does not, as of now, include an increase to the $4.50 cap on the Passenger Facility Charge.

Airports use the proceeds from the PFC to help finance infrastructure projects and fighting for an increase has been the industry’s biggest focus as the expiration of the current funding bill has approached.

The bill “provides the transformational reform necessary to bring our antiquated air traffic system into the modern era, and allow America to lead the world again in aviation,” says Bill Shuster, R-PA, and chair of the House Transportation Committee.

Under terms of the bill, the federally chartered air traffic control corporation would be governed by a board representing the aviation system’s users and the public interest. The bill, according to a statement on the committee’s website, also would streamline the FAA’s aviation equipment and aircraft certification process, provide additional improvements for consumers, address aviation safety issues and give the FAA more tools for the integration of unmanned aircraft systems.

It would also provide funds for infrastructure improvements across the country.

Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America, says the organization was “disappointed but not surprised” that the bill was introduced without a PFC increase.

He adds, however, that the bill as passed through the committee does loosen some restrictions on airports over how PFC funds are used and also requires expediting FAA reviews on PFC applications.

Additionally, the bill would provide an increase in annual funding for the Airport Improvement Program, another source of funds for infrastructure projects.

“That’s something we fought for and we got,” Burke says.

ACI-NA and the American Association of Airport Executives earlier this month issued a joint statement calling the initially introduced bill a starting point, but expressed frustration that the airport industry’s calls for a PFC increase were going unanswered.

“We are serially under-investing in airports in this country by more than $3 billion annually, according to the FAA, and the proposal put forward today misses a significant opportunity to tackle the real challenge of aging airport infrastructure and airports’ ability to serve their passengers and communities,” the statement reads. “The easiest way to build airport infrastructure and let airports address their own local needs is through a modernized Passenger Facility Charge program.”

The groups have pledged to continue working to urge Congress of the need for an increase as long as there is time before passage of a final bill. It’s unclear, Burke says, when the Senate will begin discussing FAA reauthorization.