May 17, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
Over the last century, general aviation airports have evolved from unpaved strips to a vital network of aviation hubs that contributed $38.8 billion to the economy in 2009, says a new FAA study. The study introduced a new set of airport classifications to chronicle GA’s role in the aviation system.
“This in-depth analysis highlights the pivotal role GA airports play in our society, economy, and the entire aviation system,” said the FAA in a news release accompanying the release of the report, “General Aviation Airports: A National Asset.”
The FAA will use four airport classifications instead of two for GA in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), its biennial report to Congress. Airports included in the NPIAS are considered significant to national air transportation and therefore eligible for federal airport improvement grants. In the future the FAA may use these categories as it considers regulatory and funding policies for GA airports.
The new study, in which AOPA and other industry stakeholders participated over an 18-month period, was released May 15 at the Aero Club of Washington, D.C.
“The FAA’s report will be a valuable resource for explaining the value of general aviation airports,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy. “We encourage AOPA members and Airport Support Network volunteers to read the report and discuss it with their airport manager and local decision makers.”
Of the 3,330 airports in the NPIAS, 378 are primary airports, supporting scheduled air carrier service. For 2,455 of the remaining 2,952 landing facilities, the report replaces former airport designations of reliever and GA airports with the four new categories.
Under the new system, 84 airports are classified as national airports, with high activity including numerous jets and multiengine propeller aircraft, and averaging about 200 based aircraft including 30 jets.
The study classified 467 airports as regional, serving national markets, and with high levels of activity including some jets and multiengine propeller aircraft. They had an average of 90 based aircraft, including three jets.
There were 1,236 airports identified as local, serving regional markets and having moderate levels of activity including some multiengine propeller aircraft. The airports had about 33 based propeller-driven aircraft.
The report identified 668 basic airports, often serving “critical aeronautical functions within local and regional markets” and having about 10 propeller-driven airports based at the fields. About 500 other airports must still be categorized under the new system--a process the FAA plans to begin this fall.
The report provided a comparative perspective on investment in GA infrastructure, pointing out that GA operators “spend more to fly at the general aviation airports than the Federal Government invested at these airports.” In 2009, “nonairline operators spent $12 billion flying an estimated 27 million flights at the 2,952 general aviation airports, while the Federal Government invested about $1.1 billion to help state and local governments maintain and improve those airports,” it said.
About 75 percent of those investments facilitated airfield improvements including runways, taxiways, and aprons.
The FAA plans to incorporate the new categories into its process for identifying the national airport system’s development and funding needs for the next five years.
The airport classifications will be re-evaluated every two years to reflect airports’ changing roles and needs.
No airports will be removed from the NPIAS as a result of the study, nor does it affect an airport sponsor’s eligibility for federal funding, the FAA said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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