The FAA's funding will run out on September 30, 2007, forcing Congress to act to keep the agency operating, either by reauthorizing the existing tax-based funding system, accepting the Bush administration's proposed FAA funding scheme of increased taxes and user fees, or by writing Congress' own new funding legislation. Along the way, Congress will have to answer some weighty questions.
Congress is already well into the process. The FAA, with airline backing, submitted its proposal — the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007 — in February, but to no great enthusiasm. The House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee held hearings in February and March on the FAA's proposal, and essentially buried it.
The aviation subcommittee is writing its own version of an FAA funding bill, which is expected to become public by mid-June. The bill will pass through some five committees — each of which will likely hold hearings — before it is sent to the floor of the House for a vote.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation aviation subcommittee introduced its FAA funding bill — the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007 — in May, which proposes a tax break for the airlines and a $25 per flight user fee for turbine aircraft flying in controlled airspace. User fee opponents nearly succeeded in amending the bill to remove the "surcharge." The bill goes next to the Senate Finance Committee, which actually has jurisdiction over taxes. From there it will go to the Senate floor.
After the House and Senate both approve their versions of an FAA funding (technically called a "reauthorization") bill, it will then go to Senate-House conference committee to reconcile any differences between the two versions. From there, back to the full House and Senate for final approval, then to the president for his signature.
This entire process needs to be completed before the current authorization bill expires on September 30, 2007. If not, after that date the government can't collect aviation excise taxes, nor can the FAA spend money. However, Congress could (and has in the past) pass a temporary measure to allow the FAA to continue operating pending passage of a new reauthorization bill.
(See " Authorization and appropriations" for more information on the legislative funding process.)
Today, the FAA's budget is $14.3 billion, and the spending breaks down like this:
That money comes from two sources.