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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: An Overview of Legislative Action in the 112th Congress

Bart Elias, Coordinator
Specialist in Aviation Policy

Reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs has been an issue of considerable interest during the first session of the 112th Congress. The previous FAA authorization, Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176, hereinafter referred to as “Vision 100”) expired at the end of FY2007. Attempts to enact a successor law failed in the 110th and 111th Congresses. As a result, aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority have continued under a series of short-term extensions. The latest of these, the Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-7) will expire on May 31, 2011.

The House and Senate have passed separate versions of multiyear FAA reauthorization legislation (see S. 223 and H.R. 658), and the Senate has requested a conference to resolve the differences between the House-passed and Senate-passed bills. Whereas the Senate bill only covers FY2010 and FY2011, the House bill would authorize FAA programs through FY2014. For FY2011, the only year the two bills overlap, the House-passed total authorization level for FAA is $2,082 million less than that specified by the Senate. Moreover, the House-passed bill calls for further reductions in authorized FAA funding for FY2012 through FY2014. While these levels reflect broader government-wide efforts to reduce deficit spending, they could pose considerable challenges to ongoing air traffic modernization efforts, and affect FAA’s ability to address its future needs for controllers and technical specialists to operate and maintain the nation’s air traffic system. The Senate bill proposes an increase in jet fuel tax for general aviation and a new jet fuel surcharge for fractionally owned aircraft, while the House bill does not include any changes to existing aviation taxes and fees. Neither bill includes proposals to increase the cap on passenger facility charges, and the House bill does not include the controversial provision passed by the House in the 111
th Congress to bring non-aviation employees of express carriers under the National Labor Relations Act instead of the Railway Labor Act.

Key issues addressed in the FAA reauthorization bills include provisions intended to improve the management of and accelerate progress on the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen); address FAA workforce and facility consolidation issues; improve the safety of air ambulance operations; improve runway safety; increase oversight of air carriers and foreign repair stations; integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system; and address aircraft and airport noise and emissions.

While there are many similarities in language between the House-passed and Senate-passed bills, particularly with respect to major issues affecting FAA, several important differences remain to be reconciled. Provisions that may be of particular interest during this process include 

  • significant differences in authorized funding levels and aviation fuel taxes between House and Senate versions; 
  • a labor provision in the House bill that would overturn recent regulations that make it easier for certain employees covered under the Railway Labor Act to unionize; 
  • provisions regarding the allocation of takeoff and departure slots at Reagan National Airport; and 
  • provisions in the House bill to end the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which subsidizes air carrier service to small and isolated communities.

Date of Report: April 29, 2011
Number of Pages: 51
Order Number: R41798
Price: $29.95

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