The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday approved legislation that would allow airports to charge passengers up to $3 per flight, provided the government establishes a national aviation noise abatement policy by 1992 and spends more money from the aviation trust fund.
The bill, somewhat similar to a bill passed by the House, would be attached to the "reconciliation" bill, which would reconcile the federal budget plan with various spending bills, that Congress must pass by Oct. 19 if the government is to avert another shutdown.
The committee vote gives a major boost to a bill that just a few months ago was given little chance of passage this year.
Committee Chairman Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) earlier ended his opposition to the legislation, and attaching it to the reconciliation bill makes passage almost certain if House and Senate differences can be worked out.
The House bill does not make the fees contingent on a noise policy, nor does it contain the Senate committee requirement that the aviation trust fund be below $4 billion before the fees could take effect. Many in the aviation community have complained that the surplus in the trust fund has grown too large at a time when it is badly needed for airport and airways improvement.
The committee bill also would end the slot system, in which the number of flights is limited and allocated to airlines and private aircraft on a hour-by-hour basis, at several high-density airports, including National Airport.
Airport fees -- called passenger facility policies -- were requested by Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner as part his new national policy of shifting a greater financial burden to the states and cities for transportation services.
Under both bills, a passenger could be charged $3 for each flight, meaning a total $12 charge for a round-trip flight with a change of planes if all airports involved levied the full fee.
Aircraft noise has become a major concern throughout the country, with dozens of communities enacting a patchwork of differing noise policies.
The Commerce Committee bill would require a national noise policy by January 1992 if the Transportation Department is to authorize the fees.
The bill sets up a regulatory process to develop the policy and assure that all parties would be heard before the policy is made final.