April 26, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
Support for key general aviation initiatives was evident in the $15.9 billion provided for the FAA as part of the Department of Transportation funding bill for fiscal 2013 that was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.
The legislation, which next goes before the full Senate, reiterates language that restored the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program in 2012; ensures availability and affordability of digital charts; funds contract control towers close to industry-backed levels, and maintains support for research into unleaded aviation fuels.
It recommended total FAA funding of $15.93 billion, or $7.86 million more than the administration’s budget request, and $30.5 million higher than the level enacted in fiscal year 2012. The package includes a 33-percent general fund contribution.
As was the case in fiscal 2012, language prohibiting new user fees was not present in the committee report. That language did eventually appear in the text of the fiscal year 2012 legislation.
The committee recommended capping obligations under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) at $3.35 billion, which is the same level enacted in fiscal year 2012. It addressed an FAA proposal to increase the local cost-share requirement for AIP projects at most small airports from 5 percent to 10 percent by allowing small airports to continue contributing 5 percent of the total cost for unfinished multi-year projects that were in progress before the FAA bill became law.
The draft report includes language from the 2012 appropriations bill that reinstated the BARR program which shields pilots from online disclosure of their flight planning and progress. Use of BARR had been severely curtailed by the FAA effective last August. Facing court action and legislative displeasure, the FAA abandoned that effort in December.
The FAA’s decision to begin charging for digital charts also brought a critical response from the Appropriations Committee in administrative language included in the bill.
A provision would restrict the FAA from implementing new fees on digital chart products from its AeroNav unit until a process of public outreach is completed and a full justification submitted. The FAA would be required to address the fee structure’s impact on the aviation community, including companies that use the data in products sold to end users.
In a nod to aviation safety, the committee urged that timely access to AeroNav products be restored pending any new proposal.
Contract control towers would be funded at the $140 million level, including $10 million for the contract tower cost-share program. Language limiting contributions in the contract tower cost-share program to 20 percent of total costs was also included. Last month, responding to reports of possible “devastating” cuts for the program, AOPA and other organizations called for full funding of contract control towers, noting that the contract towers handle about 28 percent of control tower operations, but account for only about 14 percent of the FAA’s spending on tower operations.
Although the committee recommended a $20 million reduction of the FAA’s research, engineering, and development budget request, it maintained a funding level of almost $2 million for research into alternative fuels for general aviation. The research is seen as a critical component of the long-term effort to implement general use of a lead-free avgas.
“We commend the Senate appropriators for passing this bill, which includes many provisions important to our members and the GA community—such as protecting digital charts, funding for avgas, and preserving BARR—and we encourage the full Senate to act on the bill soon,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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