FY18 Omnibus: Aviation Programs

March 22, 2018

The fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations package contains $18 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration and drops most of the Senate bill’s legislative provisions, including the $4.00 per passenger increase in allowable passenger facility charges (PFCs) at originating airports. The omnibus package also includes another extension of Airport and Airway Trust Fund taxes and spending authority for six months, to September 30, 2018.

The legislative text is here and the joint explanatory statement is here.

The four accounts at the FAA all receive increases ranging from typical to tremendous:

Operations +$186 million +1.9%
Facilities & Equip. +$395 million +13.8%
R&D +$189 million +7.0%
Airport Grants +$1.00 billion +29.9%
Total, FAA +$1.59 billion +9.7%

Operations. The bill boosts the Air Traffic Organization by $133 million above last year, which should be enough to cover controller workforce attrition and pay raises. $165 million is set aside for the contract tower program.

Facilities and Equipment. As part of the bill-wide push for an increase in infrastructure spending of at least $10 billion, the capital account is given a $395 million increase over last year. The extra funding largely went to NextGen programs, particularly a $140 million plus-up above the budget request for NextGen data communications. Overall, the explanatory statement claims $289 million in NextGen funding above the 2017 levels.

Research, Engineering and Development. The bill gives R&D programs a $12.4 million increase over last year. Most of that extra money goes to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) activities, which get $17.2 million more than the budget request. $12 million is to support the expanded role of the UAS Center ofExcellence (which happens to be at Mississippi State University, in the home state of Senate Appropriations Chairman Cochran), $2 million is to expand the Center’s role in transportation disaster preparedness and response, and $10 million is to support UAS research activities at the FAA technical center and other FAA facilities.

Airport Improvement Program. The AIP program receives the full $3.35 billion obligation limitation on contract authority called for by various FAA extension legislation, but tops that off with a $1.0 billion appropriation from the general fund. The GF money is not to be distributed via any formulas – instead, it all goes out (after a $5 million admin takedown) via discretionary grants. FAA is ordered to give priority to nonprimary, nonhub, and small hub airports, and the federal cost share of projects at the nonprimary airports shall be 100 percent. The bill maintains the Senate takedowns for the airport research programs and small community air service.


General provisions. When House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Shuster announced on February 27 that he was abandoning his plan for fundamental reform of air traffic control and instead moving a more conventional FAA reauthorization bill, the odds of Congress actually enacting a FAA bill in 2018 rose substantially. This was bad news for the Senate appropriators, whose bill included five provisions amending aviation statutes in title 49 U.S.C., which is supposed to be the purview of the FAA reauthorization bill, since the argument of “the FAA bill isn’t going anywhere so we have to address these issues” would no longer fly. (Pun intended.)

The final omnibus bill drops all five of the Senate legislative provisions:

  • Section 119L of the Senate bill allowing originating airports to increase their passenger facility charge (PFC) by up to $4.
  • Section 119E of the Senate bill ordering DOT to allow Cuba-bound planes to stop in the U.S.
  • Section 119F of the Senate bill ordering AIP funding to be transferred to FAA operations in the event of a government shutdown.
  • Section 119J of the Senate bill ordering the FAA to promote U.S. aviation, not just regulate it.
  • Section 119K of the Senate bill banning voice phone calls on airliners.

The final bill does contain the usual boilerplate general provisions, plus a section 119C ordering FAA to keep considering applications for the contract tower program and a section 119D expanding the use of an Organization Designation Authorization’s (ODA) delegated functions.

Essential Air Service. The final bill includes $155 million for Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidies from the general fund, a $5 million increase over last year, which is paired with $119 million in mandatory funding from overflight fees.

FAA extension. Division M of the legislation contains a six-month extension of Airport and Airway Trust Fund taxes and spending authority and of many expiring FAA authorizations and authorities. Section 107 of the extension deems the funding levels in the omnibus to satisfy the provision in 49 U.S.C. §48114 that mandates minimum FAA capital funding levels. And section 108 of the extension adds a new process to encourage hiring of local residents near ATC facilities as air traffic controllers.

Weather forecasts. We don’t know what a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast is, but if you care, look up section 420 in the back of the Transportation-HUD division of the bill.



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