Senate passes long-term FAA reauthorization bill

March 23, 2010

The Senate on March 22 unanimously approved an FAA reauthorization bill, setting the stage for the next-to-last step before it can go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. The bill contains a slight increase in the fuel excise tax that general aviation pilots and operators will pay into the aviation trust fund, but like its House counterpart, contains no user fees.

“AOPA, on behalf of our 415,000 members, is pleased to see reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration take this important step forward, funding the agency without the use of user fees,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “The final bill will give the FAA the guidance and the long-term support it needs to move forward with the crucial work of modernizing our air traffic control system, preserving our network of airports, and maintaining the safest air transportation system in the world.”

The $34.5 billion, two-year Senate bill, which passed 93 to 0, focuses on modernizing the air traffic control system. It would fund modernization in part by an increase in GA jet fuel taxes—21.9 cents to 36 cents per gallon—but would not impose any new user fees. The legislation would establish deadlines for the adoption of existing NextGen air transportation system technology to accelerate the transition to satellite-based navigation and surveillance, including a mandate for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out in all aircraft by 2015 and ADS-B In by 2018.

Other provisions include a requirement to re-evaluate pilot training requirements and the authorization of $8.1 billion to support airport infrastructure through the Airport Improvement Program. The legislation also would extend the FAA’s commitment to contribute 95 percent of the cost for certain small airport improvement projects.

Because the House had passed its version of an FAA reauthorization bill last year, the two bodies can go directly to conference to reconcile their separate versions. Although neither version contains user fees, there are other significant differences that remain to be worked out before a compromise bill is ready for the president’s signature.

“We want to extend our thanks to Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for their guidance in moving the bill toward passage, and to Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) for the amendments they offered,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “We look forward now to the work of the conference committee that will craft a blended version of the House and Senate bills to send to President Obama for his signature.”

While no timeline for the conference committee has yet been announced, AOPA remains hopeful that Congress will keep the ball rolling.