Aviation Bill: Foretelling What’s to Come For Surface Transportation?

If today’s FAA vote in the House is a preview of the upcoming debate over funding for the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, we can foresee fights between the House and Senate over funding levels and the loss of key public services.

The House aviation bill would cut funding to rural airports. Photo: ##http://www.maine-map.org/airports.htm##Maine Airports##

The House will vote today on a proposal to bring aviation spending down to FY2008 levels, spending $59.7 billion over four years. That means reductions in spending on equipment, airport improvements, and staffing. Safety enhancements and security are casualties of the House bill. Meanwhile, the Senate is pushing for a shorter-term bill, funding aviation at $34.5 billion for just two years. The wisdom of a Democratic majority with such a narrow margin betting that it’ll be stronger in two years is open to debate.

According to USA Today, “FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says uncertainty about FAA funding already has prompted the agency to pause in its efforts to certify new aviation technology and could even slow the opening of aircraft manufacturer plants, thereby reducing jobs.” Sounds like what we’ve been hearing from state DOTs, transit agencies, and the construction industry about the uncertainty of funding for roads and transit.

Perhaps more significant than the (rather predictable) spending cuts is the House’s willingness to end federal subsidies for rural air service. Many rural airports would have no commercial service if it weren’t for federal assistance to the airlines. It’s reminiscent of the GOP plan to privatize rail and let Amtrak die a slow death, knowing full well that private rail services will never be able to make a profit off the highly-subsidized, long-distance rural routes that Amtrak runs at a loss as a public service. The Senate would not only keep the rural air service program, it would double its funding.

The Transportation Committee has said that it will start the surface transportation bill once the FAA reauthorization is complete, so here’s hoping the two houses come to an agreement on the sticking points soon and pass the bill. Leaders in both chambers say they are looking forward to marking up a transportation bill in May.

  • Alai

    Not very ‘urbanist’ or ‘sustainable’ to support large subsidies to rural airports…

    Can someone explain why the democrats are fighting for this?

  • Anonymous

    I am so tired of Congress’ refusal to fund Amtrak properly yet subsidize air travel by the billions of dollars. Congress passed the Amtrak Reauthorization Act but has yet to fund Amtrak to the levels CONGRESS itself stated it would fund it at.

    Yet ridership has increased on Amtrak in the last few years (even when air ridership decreased) and has steadily increased in the last 15 months (i.e., increased every month). Amtrak Cascades had its best year ever in 2010 in 10 years of operation.

    People are voting with their dollars & their feet, and what does Congress do? It ignores the public. No doubt the real point of subsidizing rural air service/airports is so all the wealthy people can fly their helicopters & private planes to their vacation homes. That’s the way it is on the OR coast anyway–small towns are expected to subsidize local general aviation airports that only the well off/wealthy actually use. Forget trying to get passenger rail to any of these towns instead. I guess we need more of the wealthy to decide that private rail cars are cooler than private planes and helicopters, then we’d see passenger rail become more popular–so we could pay for the engines to pull their cars, along with a few for the peons.

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