House and Senate lawmakers have introduced companion bills designed to free up funding for general aviation and small airports and ease the process for improvement projects at those airports.
Introduced last week by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) in the Senate and Reps. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) and Cheri Bustos (R-Illinois) in the House, the bills would be reform “non-primary” airport entitlement funding to ensure general aviation facilities have the time to obtain the necessary FAA funding and have access to discretionary funding. The bills further would expedite the environmental review process in certain cases, establish a public-private partnership to enable general aviation airports to attract private investments and designate certain airports as “disaster relief airports” to enable access to emergency planning and other funding. Finally, the companion bills would clarify definitions to ensure that construction of recreational aircraft is considered aeronautical activity at airports.
“Oklahoma is home to 96 GA airports, which will need $303 million in critical infrastructure updates over the next five years,” Inhofe said in introducing S.1320, the Forward Looking Investment in General Aviation, Hangars and Tarmacs (Flight) Act of 2017. “As a pilot myself, I know firsthand the need of the GA community, and the Flight Act makes a number of needed reforms to facilitate GA airport infrastructure investment.”
“Our facilities need to be modernized to continue providing reliable service to [small and rural] communities,” added Graves in introducing the companion H.R.2879. “The Flight Act will give GA airports investment flexibility by opening up existing funding sources, presenting a much needed commonsense solution to the problems facing our nation’s small airports.”
The bills were introduced as House and Senate lawmakers begin to assemble comprehensive FAA reauthorization legislation, providing a possible vehicle for consideration if they do not move forward as independent bills.
A cross-section of general and business aviation, airports, states and other organizations strongly backed the bills. Nearly 30 of those organizations wrote the lawmakers endorsing the legislation, saying the measures would provide “long overdue flexibility, within existing budget parameters.”
The organizations noted that for a number of reasons, non-primary airports have not been able to fully use their federal airport grants on upgrade and infrastructure projects. “The Flight Act addresses these concerns in a fiscally sound manner,” they said.