Senate and House bills to boost spending on airport improvements

Two bills that were introduced June 21 and 22 provide very different outcomes for the future of aviation in the United States. Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, introduced a six-year draft House bill called the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act (AIRR Act), a revised version from last year’s bill.

The bill includes provisions and reforms to reduce red tape in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) certification process for aircraft and aviation products, foster innovation in unmanned aircraft systems, fund the Nation’s airport infrastructure,  and privatize air traffic controllers (ATC). It also would beef up some protections for the flying public. For example, the legislation prohibits airlines from involuntarily bumping a passenger once they have already boarded a plane. The bill also requires airlines to install secondary metal barriers on new planes to prevent terrorists from entering the flight deck. Another provision would prohibit the transportation secretary from approving any foreign airline service to the U.S. if the carrier is established in a country other than its majority owner. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill Tuesday. Now the legislation must be considered by the full House and the Senate.

The second bill, introduced by Sen. John Thune and Sen. Bill Nelson, unveiled the Senate’s  FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017,which reauthorizes federal aviation programs through fiscal year 2021.

The Thune-Nelson bill would help manufacturers by reforming certifications, improve certain consumer protections, underpin ATC technology modernization, and boosts unmanned air vehicle enforcement powers at the FAA. The Senate legislation would require FAA to update its “NextGen” technology to replace radar-based air control with a GPS-based system. The bill also directs the Department of Transportation to create a carrier certificate allowing for package deliveries by drones, according to a summary. It also addresses issues with personal drone usage, including criminalizing reckless drone behavior, promoting safety and increasing privacy, as well as developing other innovative uses. The reauthorization act improves requirements for the bulk transfer of lithium batteries and supports contract air traffic control towers. The legislation also allows general aviation airports more flexibility to facilitate infrastructure investment. The senate commerce committee is slated to vote on the Thune-Nelson bill on June 29.

One key similarity between the bills is the boost each one would provide to airport construction spending.

Both bills hike FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) infrastructure grants from this year’s $3.35 billion appropriation. The Thune version raises AIP in steps to $3.75 billion in its last year, 2021. Its annual AIP average over the four years is $3.65 billion, up 9 percent from this year’s level. Shuster’s version also has gradual annual increases for AIP, to a maximum of $3.82 billion in the proposal’s final year, 2023. Its annual average is $3.62 billion, an 8 percent hike over 2017.

Here are a few airport improvement projects coming up throughout the U.S.:

The Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Yosemite Airport in California are seeking a request for statements of qualifications for architectural and engineering services.  Aviation consultants will provide up to 25 percent conceptual design services in support of the environmental documentation process for a proposed new 40,000 square foot, three gate passenger terminal and an associated approximately 119,500 square foot aircraft parking apron capable of parking three commercial aircraft. Initial services will support the National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act review and documentation. Later phases are expected to include final design, consultation during construction and construction management. Responses to this request for statements of qualifications (RFQ) are due at 4 p.m. on July 20.

The Spokane Airport Board in the State of Washington is seeking statements of qualifications from qualified firms or teams of firms to provide architect and engineer services for the terminal renovation and expansion program. Spokane International Airport is the second busiest airport in the State of Washington and serves as the primary commercial service air transportation facility for eastern Washington and northwestern Idaho. The Board intends to deliver a series of projects that will unify the terminal complex, provide for future growth, improve efficiency by optimizing passenger flow and use of space and upgrade the overall passenger experience at Spokane International Airport. The RFQ is due by 2 p.m. July 10.

The General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisc. is inviting qualified professional firms or teams to submit astatement of qualifications (SOQ) to provide airport planning services for the update of the Airport Master Plan. The most recent update to the Master Plan was in 2000. The update, including airport layout plan will reflect existing conditions and depict future airport development. This medium hub airport serves the Milwaukee Metropolitan area and surrounding urban, suburban and rural communities of Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. The SOQ is due by 2 p.m. on July 10.

Elmira Corning Regional Airport in New York will apply for $11.5 million in FAA funding toward the airport’s $58 million terminal overhaul. The money — $10.06 million of which would come from a discretionary pot of funding from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, and $1.43 million of which would come from the airport’s annual entitlement — would leverage a $40 million state grant awarded for the project. Funding would be used toward the first phase of terminal construction, which could begin as soon as next month. The airport’s overhaul will occur in phases.

Work anticipated for the initial phase includes demolition of the terminal’s eastern half, construction of a temporary departure lounge and baggage claim area, and the construction of foundations, structural steel, exterior walls and roofing for the new portion of the terminal. Acquisition of a new jet bridge to accommodate larger aircraft would also be initiated in the first phase.

In a project narrative attached to the application and made available to legislators, officials list the terminal rehabilitation as a priority project under the airport’s master plan. The existing terminal was originally built in the 1950s and last renovated in 1990, and its design needs to be updated for post 9/11 security requirements and the needs of modern travelers. Bids for the first phase will be opened in the next couple of weeks and construction is anticipated to start soon after.

Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport  in Oklahoma could be looking at the start of two major improvement projects by fall, including construction of a new fire station. Construction of Fire Station No. 2 will replace the aging facility on Bishop Road that was built in the 1970s. The building has structural damage, and the airport and city of Lawton are working under an agreement that is using funding from three sources, including $2.4 million from the FAA, to build a new joint use facility that provides a crew dedicated to aviation emergencies and another handle emergencies in south Lawton. That runway work was suggested by an engineer to resolve problems with cracking. An in-depth analysis revealed the problem stemmed from water under the runway and taxiways. The project to be bid in July will help resolve the problem by sealing joints and cracks in the runway and, in some cases, completely replacing concrete segments.