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Monday, October 18, 2010

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: An Overview of Legislative Action in the 111th Congress

Bart Elias, Coordinator
Specialist in Aviation Policy

Funding authorization for aviation programs set forth in Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176) and authorization for taxes and fees that provide revenue for the aviation trust fund expired at the end of FY2007. While Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation was considered during the 110th Congress, the only related legislation enacted consisted of eight short-term extensions for aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority, thus carrying the issue of FAA reauthorization over to the 111th Congress. While FAA reauthorization debate has continued during the 111th Congress, eight additional short-term extensions have been passed to extend the authorization of aviation programs, funding, and aviation trust fund revenue collections.

On February 11, 2009, Representative Oberstar introduced the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 915). The bill is similar to FAA reauthorization legislation passed by the House during the 110
th Congress (see H.R. 2881, 110th Congress). H.R. 915, as amended, was passed by the House on May 21, 2009. It would authorize almost $54 billion for FAA programs over three years spanning from FY2010 through FY2012. The financing title of the bill would raise fuel taxes for corporate jets and other general aviation aircraft, but would keep fuel taxes paid by the airlines and passengers’ taxes at their current rates. The bill would also allow airports to increase passenger facility charges (PFCs), raising the maximum from $4.50 to $7 per passenger. The bill would increase authorized spending for facilities and equipment to support development of Next Generation (NextGen) air traffic modernization initiatives, and would authorize increased funding for airport infrastructure improvement grants. The bill seeks modifications in FAA management and oversight of NextGen air traffic modernization projects, and includes provisions addressing system capacity, aviation safety, environmental issues, and airline industry issues, including airline passenger rights issues. The House also passed the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009 (H.R. 3371) on October 14, 2009, a bill containing numerous provisions related to airline safety.

On July 14, 2009, Senator Rockefeller introduced the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (S. 1451), containing a two-year FAA reauthorization proposal. The bill would authorize $34.56 billion over a two-year span covering FY2010 and FY2011. Unlike the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007 (S. 1300, 110
th Congress), S. 1451 does not contain any proposal for aviation system user fees. Rather, it focuses on accelerating the deployment of NextGen air traffic technologies and a number of safety issues, including the safety of air ambulance operations, unmanned aircraft, commuter airlines, and FAA oversight of airlines and aircraft repair stations. The bill seeks to streamline the PFC approval process, but does not seek any increase to maximum PFC levels. The bill also seeks to improve airline consumer service through enhanced disclosure requirements and contingencies for flights that are substantially delayed, and it seeks an increase in funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidies and small community air service grants. On March 22, 2010, the Senate passed H.R. 1586 as amended, which is similar to S. 1451 and includes an aviation trust fund revenue title. Subsequently, on March 25, 2010, the House passed its amended version of H.R. 1586, titling it the Aviation Safety and Investment Act of 2010, which incorporates the text of H.R. 915 and H.R. 3371. A resolution to the differences in H.R. 1586 is pending. On August 1, 2010, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-216) was enacted. The act included several airline safety provisions adopted from the House and Senate versions of H.R. 1586. Currently, P.L. 111-249 further extends FAA authorization and trust fund revenue collections through the end of CY2010.


Date of Report: October 5, 2010
Number of Pages: 97
Order Number: R40410
Price: $29.95

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Public Transit New Starts Program: Issues and Options for Congress

William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The New Starts program provides federal funds to public transit agencies on a largely competitive basis for the construction of new fixed-guideway transit systems and the expansion of existing fixed-guideway systems. New Starts has funded the development of bus rapid transit (BRT) and ferries, as these are eligible under the definition of fixed-guideway, but the vast majority of funding has gone to transit rail systems. Partly as a result of federal support, rail transit routemileage in the United States almost doubled between 1985 and 2008, and rail transit passenger trips and passenger miles grew by 66% and 73%, respectively.

The federal transit program, of which New Starts is a part, is authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA) (P.L. 109-59). Since SAFETEA expired on September 30, 2009, the program has operated under a series of authorization extensions. The program underwent several significant changes in SAFETEA, and a long-term reauthorization of the surface transportation program provides a major opportunity for Congress to make more changes.

Four of the most important issues that might arise in the reauthorization debate are:

  • The amount of funding authorized for New Starts projects. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), for instance, recommends increasing the program from an average of about $1.5 billion per year, as authorized by SAFETEA, to an average of $3.5 billion per year. Other policy analysts advocate shrinking federal government support for transit, particularly expensive new rail systems. Another option is to redirect New Starts funding to rehabilitating existing transit rail systems. 
  • The types of projects favored within the New Starts program. Some advocate a continuation of building major commuter, heavy (subway), and light rail transit systems and extensions, while others favor more emphasis on cheaper, but slower, streetcar projects, and still others favor bus and bus rapid transit (BRT). 
  • The New Starts approval process. Several proposals are pending to simplify the approval process or to change the way projects are rated. 
  • Encouragement of more private sector participation in New Starts projects. Formation of public-private partnerships (PPPs) might increase investment in rail transit, but attracting private money may require simplification of the approval process.

Date of Report: October 5, 2010
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R41442
Price: $29.95

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