We are living through a pivotal moment in aviation. Technology continues to push new and innovative aircraft forward, sustainable aviation fuels are on the cusp of making our journeys greener, all while air travel expects to rebound to pre-pandemic levels this summer. But despite the enthusiasm, much uncertainty remains in our industry. On March 21-22, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and Airport Council International – North America (ACI-NA) hosted their annual Washington Legislative Conference. Eight legislators, in addition to representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA), spoke about ongoing concerns, including but not limited to, safety, funding, and workforce development. Not surprisingly, these discussions were centered around congressional FAA authorization that is set to expire October 1, 2023.
Though it is evident there is much work to do between now and October 1, it is encouraging that both the House of Representative and Senate leaders are committed to a timely and bipartisan reauthorization. According to Rep. Garrett Graves, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, they have received over 500 ideas from those in congress and over 1,400 ideas from outside sources regarding what legislation should include. Through a series of hearings, the House and Senate will refine these ideas before releasing competing draft bills. It is important to note that congress sees this as an iterative process and hopes to continue to receive feedback from industry partners once the drafts are released.
Reauthorization means something different to every stakeholder, but for those of us in the airport industry, some main takeaways emerge. Congressional leaders understand that despite the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there remains a large gap between funding levels and airport need. Despite this, do not expect a change to Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). Instead, there is a larger appetite to increase Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding to closer to $4 billion from the $3.35 billion it has been at for two decades. In addition, most congressional leaders at the event seemed supportive of giving local airports more control over their entitlements – potentially by relaxing AIP requirements to match more closely IIJA/PFC eligibility rules. Finally, there seems to be some support for changes to the entitlement structure suggested by AAAE and ACI-NA that would tier general aviation airports based on their role in our national airspace system.
Outside of funding, concerns remain over redundancy with regards to the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system that caused a ground stop back in January, how we can elevate the passenger experience from curb to curb with multiple participants, and how the United States will remain the gold standard in aviation safety despite an ever changing and less experienced workforce.
So, as we say in the advocacy business – what are the asks? What can we do to support FAA Reauthorization?
- Stay in tune with reauthorization news by watching for legislative updates from the Airport Consultants Council (ACC) and other sister organizations.
- When draft bills come out over the summer, remember that we are subject matter experts uniquely positioned to provide feedback. At the conference, each legislator urged attendees to reach out if we can help provide clarity on an issue.
- As we get closer to the finish line, be ready to respond to the call to contact your legislator. Rep. Rudy Yakym, Vice Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Aviation Subcommittee, communicated that before each vote, one of the last things he does is ask his staff what constituents and organizations support or oppose the bill. Your voice matters more than you may realize.
These are exciting times! It is my honor to serve as the ACC Advocacy Committee chairperson. My door is always open. Please reach out if you’d like to further discuss FAA Reauthorization and ACC’s advocacy efforts. I am glad to help!