November 18, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
President Barack Obama has signed a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill that provides $12.5 billion in FAA funding for Fiscal Year 2012, makes some reductions in Airport Improvement Program spending levels, and allocates $2 million for unleaded avgas research. The overall increase in FAA appropriations amounted to $137 million over Fiscal Year 2011.
A provision of the bill restores the Block Aircraft Registration Request program, which had been drastically curtailed by the FAA effective Aug. 2 in an action under challenge by AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association in federal court. The case that focused on the right to privacy of general aviation flights is scheduled for a hearing Dec. 2.
Spending levels reflected the efforts of a House-Senate conference committee, with numerous line items roughly splitting the difference between proposed appropriations in the two chambers, with $9.65 billion appropriated for FAA operations, $2.73 billion for Facilities and Equipment and $167.5 million for research and development.
The bill limits the FAA’s ability to obligate spending from the Airport Improvement Program to $3.35 billion, down from the $3.51 billion level at which it has been frozen for the past six years.
Facilities and Equipment funding for Wide Augmentation System (WAAS) infrastructure came in at a compromise figure of $95 million.
“We commend Congress for passing this bill, which includes an important provision restoring BARR and provides critical funding for avgas,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.
In other provisions, no additional funding was included for NextGen’s En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) Operations; however, the bill directs the FAA to pay for ERAM activities from Facilities and Equipment budgets in accordance with past management practice.
The bill also orders a progress report from the FAA to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in 60 days after passage, on establishing special-use airspace for research related to umanned aerial systems, especially focused on detection of small unmanned aerial vehicles, said a summary of the bill.
The agreement provides $29.2 million for performance based navigation, as proposed by the House, including $3 million more than requested for a demonstration project to design, deploy, and maintain required navigation performance (RNP) procedures at five mid-sized airports where aircraft flying RNP arrivals would achieve “measurable benefit,” it said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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