Although the federal aviation spending bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate last week (it is expected to be passed by the House any day now and then signed into law by President Clinton) isn't everything industry supporters hoped for, by and large the compromise measure serves the interests of the flying public -- and that is all that counts.

After all, the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure is less generous and more short-termed than the original passed by the House last spring, calling for $40 billion (not $57 billion) to be invested in aviation infrastructure over a three-year period (not five).

Nevertheless, the legislation guarantees that funds derived from airline ticket taxes (and the interest earned) will be devoted to expenditures on aviation needs such as airport projects and the improvement of air traffic control systems -- a victory of sorts, if a belated one.

Already, work on safety, comfort and service enhancements, all of which obviously redound to the benefit of consumers, has been stifled by the legislative wrangling that has stalled the process for months.

In fact, had a compromise not been reached early last week, observers report that $1.2 billion in projects slated to go forward this year would have been scrapped. Fortunately, it appears that will not happen.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the flying public will pay the freight for some of this in the form of higher passenger facility charges, which the legislation allows airports to increase from a top of $3 a flight on every traveler to as much as $4.50 to support revenue bond issues.

Nevertheless, we take comfort in the fact that the budget compromise ensures that revenue targeted for aviation will not be shared by other competing -- and needy -- federal programs. At least the extra buck and a half will go where it belongs.

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