The Senate Appropriations Committee has unanimously approved a bill that would provide $16.4 billion in funding to the FAA for the 2017 fiscal year, up slightly from the $16.28 billion enacted for 2016. The 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
The act provides funding for air traffic control, $1 billion for NextGen, and $159 million for contract towers. AOPA joined nine other aviation organizations in asking lawmakers in the House and Senate to protect funding for contract control towers. The contract tower program has been in place for more than 30 years and currently serves 253 smaller airports in 46 states.
Other provisions include $7 million for ongoing research into an unleaded replacement for avgas, efforts to streamline aircraft certification processes, language preventing the FAA from charging users for AeroNav products, steps to protect access to backcountry landing strips, and instructions to implement education and training programs for drone operators.
The appropriations bill also makes note of the controversy around proposals to privatize the air traffic control system, noting that “the Committee strongly believes that air traffic control should remain an inherently governmental function,” and adding that “given the growing congressional opposition to removing the ATO from the FAA, the Committee will prohibit funding for this purpose should there be any effort to bypass the will of Congress.”
An FAA reauthorization bill introduced in the House proposed removing air traffic control functions from the FAA, an idea which Senate appropriators warned colleagues they would reject. A Senate reauthorization measure passed April 19 did not include privatization. The House must pass a reauthorization measure and the two chambers must reconcile any differences before any FAA reauthorization package can become law.