On February 3, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) released his proposal for FAA reauthorization, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. The AIRR Act authorizes aviation programs through FY 2022 and proposes some significant reforms, particularly with regard to the Air Traffic Control system.
This legislation has been released in advance of the March 31, 2016 expiration of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Next week, Chairman Shuster intends to mark up the bill in his committee. The Senate Commerce Committee has yet to take action on FAA reauthorization but has identified the legislation as a top priority for 2016.
When it comes to NACo’s policy positions on aviation issues, our platform focuses on a few key issues, including the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs), Essential Air Service (EAS) and the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP). Here is how the AIRR addresses these issues:
NACo supports continued funding for the AIP - The AIRR Act provides continued and robust funding for AIP, which provides federal grants to airports for airport development and planning. AIP funding can support a wide range of airports, including many large commercial airports and small general aviation airports. The main advantage to the AIP program is that it provides funds for capital projects without the financial burden of debt financing, although airports are required to provide a local match (between 5 and 25 percent depending on the airport size and eligible costs).
NACo supports the continued collection of PFCs and providing airport sponsors flexibility in determining how PFC funds may be spent – The AIRR Act allows for the continued collection of PFCs and removes restrictions on the PFC aimed at allowing airports to more effectively finance projects that improve airport infrastructure and benefit the traveling public. Under current law, the PFC is a state, local or port authority fee, not a federally imposed tax. The money raised from PFCs are required to be spent on eligible airport-related projects, such as projects to enhance safety, security or capacity at airports; and projects that reduce noise or increase air carrier competition. Unlike AIP funds, PFC funds may be used to service debt incurred to carry out projects.
NACo supports continuing EAS subsidies to carriers serving small communities and fully funding the program – The AIRR Act continues and funds the EAS for the life of the bill, increasing the amount authorized funding from current levels ($275 million for FY 2016) to $315 million by FY 2022. The EAS program was created to guarantee that small communities being served by certified airlines maintained commercial service following the deregulation of the airline industry. When Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, airlines were given almost complete freedom to determine areas of service and what airfares to charge, inherently putting less profitable markets at a disadvantage. Since its establishment, the EAS program has ensured continued commercial service to eligible communities by providing subsidizes to carriers providing service between EAS communities and major hub airports.
NACo supports continued, sufficient and guaranteed funding for the SCASDP – The AIRR Act continues the SCASDP through the life of the bill, authorizing $5 million for the program on an annual basis (consistent with the FY 2016 funding level but $1 million less than was authorized in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012). The SCASDP is a grant program designed to help small communities address air service and airfare issues. Compared to the EAS program, SCASDP provides communities the opportunity to self-identify their air service needs and propose solutions. Under current law, participation in the program is limited to those communities where the airport is not larger than a primary small hub, the service is insufficient and the air fares to the community are unreasonably high.