A glance at the FAA budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016, and the movie “Groundhog Day” immediately came to mind. In this movie, a weatherman is forced to repeat February 2 over and over again. He was stuck in one place, doing the same thing over and over, and nothing he did mattered.
Here we are a year later, with a new budget proposal, which bears a striking resemblance to the budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015. So much so, that it might even be possible to use my editorial from last year on the subject.
I’m talking about the proposal to reduce the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant pool in exchange for the raising the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) from $4.50 to $8. Does this sound familiar? It should—it is the exact number found in the 2015 budget proposal. Hopefully this year will be the year that this budget item actually makes it to the end. (Similar proposals in the last two budgets failed to survive Congressional scrutiny.) After all, there is an estimated $71.3 billion in needed infrastructure improvements looming, and airports will need to pay for these updates somehow.
While this move, if approved, would give airports more buying power when raising funds for capital improvement projects, the increase comes at the expense of reduced entitlement grants. The proposed 2016 budget sets aside $2.9 billion for AIP grants, a decrease of $450 million from 2015. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the money would be targeted at smaller commercial and general aviation airports that lack access to other revenue sources.
Even so, Airports Council International-North America President and CEO Kevin Burke expressed ACI-NA’s disappointment in the proposal, saying “…while this proposal modernizes the PFC, it appears to do so at the expense of the AIP,” he says. “A significant cut like this in AIP funding ultimately hurts medium- and small-sized airports that depend the most on this grant funding for necessary capital improvement projects.”
There are some bright spots, however, in the 2016 budget proposal. The budget does not include any user fees for general aviation. Past budgets proposed a $100-per-flight-fee for general aviation. The budget also includes funds to continue the search for an avgas replacement and $956 million in NextGen funding.
But where the chips, or the funds, actually fall remains to be seen. As Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs says, “It’s important to remember this is just the beginning of the budget process.”
Let’s hope it’s not the start of another “ground hog day.”