House committee passes FAA funding bill, but issue far from resolved

March 5, 2009

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee March 5 approved the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 915). The FAA funding bill now moves to the next committee.

“This is an important first step, and we strongly support this bill,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller, “but with the Obama administration’s call for user fees, we know we have a rough flight ahead of us.” ( Fuller testified in support of H.R. 915 on Feb. 11.)

The Transportation Committee believes that the time-proven system of aviation excise taxes, not user fees, should continue to fund the FAA and modernization of the air traffic control system. However, taxes are the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. Last year, that Committee accepted the recommendation of the Transportation Committee and passed a companion bill that would have funded the FAA from fuel taxes and other taxes paid into the aviation trust fund. But those bills stalled in the Senate.

The Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, has indicated it won’t begin to consider this year’s funding measures until after it can examine the President’s budget. The White House says the budget detail will be on Capitol Hill by mid April.

FAA funding has continued under a series of temporary measures, the latest one set to expire at the end of March. During today’s mark-up hearing on H.R. 915, Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said he would reluctantly support another temporary funding extension until the end of September to allow airport grant funding (Airport Improvement Program) to continue through the construction season.

Both Oberstar and aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) said they would prefer quick passage of H.R. 915. “We need to be maintaining and upgrading facilities to make our economy as efficient as possible,” said Costello.