By Jennifer Michels
March 17, 2011
The U.S. House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee approved a 60-day extension for FAA funding and programs, from March 31 to May 31, while FAA fiscal 2011 reauthorization continues to be debated.
The committee passed the bill (H.R.1079) to keep the FAA funded at current levels and to give the House time to work on the four-year bill the panel passed in February (H.R.658). The four-year bill cuts $4 billion from FAA programs and facilities and sets the spending at fiscal 2008 levels.
“This extension will keep our aviation programs funded through the end of May, and I have renewed confidence that, with the Senate having already passed its bill and our reauthorization headed to the floor in the next couple weeks, this should be our final extension,” said aviation subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wis.). FAA’s funding authority has been extended 17 times. The House is expected to vote on this extension and the four-year bill the week of March 28.
The committee yesterday also set its funding priorities for 2012, and aviation is only part of the focus. In addition to focusing on a long-term, surface transportation funding bill that would cut and consolidate some programs, the panel also supports reducing appropriations for Amtrak and seeking public/private partnerships in highway and rail projects. It also said it wants to reduce funding for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program.
In its Views and Estimates report distributed to committee members yesterday, the committee says one of its highest priorities is to spend user fees on their intended purpose from various trust funds, including the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, and not to mask the federal budget deficit.
It recommends cuts to FAA’s operating, capital and airport grant accounts to reduce the overall spending to 2008 levels. Some specific recommendations include, in the facilities and equipment account, saving money by consolidating old or obsolete FAA facilities, which would save on maintenance costs as the satellite-based NextGen program leads to efficiencies. It notes that the last major streamlining, which affected the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control facility, has been saving the FAA $1 million per year. “The potential cost savings from FAA facility consolidations and realignments are enormous.” It recommends that the F&E account be funded at $2.6 billion, which it says will be sufficient to fund “priority” NextGen projects while maintaining current air traffic control systems through 2014.
It also refers to the Essential Air Service program as “a good example of a taxpayer-subsidized program that has gone unchecked.” The four-year bill proposes phasing out EAS in three years.
Not all members of the committee agree with the Views and Estimates report; Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the committee, said he couldn’t support it because it proposes cutting funding for runways and taxiways.
Source: AVIATION WEEK