February 10, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
A story that appeared Feb. 10 on a local Milwaukee, Wis., television station on how Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants are spent in the state was “incomplete and wrong.”
In the TMJ4 story, “Excessive spending at small local airports has some concerned,” reporters Tim Meulemans and Steve Chamraz said that in the past four years, 80 Wisconsin airports shared in $76.2 million of the $10.3 billion in AIP funds available in 2012.
The story says that AIP grants spent on the Capitol Drive and Palmyra Airports were money that neither facility requested. “Across Wisconsin, small airports are spending millions of dollars from that fund. In some cases—just because they can.”
The story did note that money for AIP grants comes from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, funded by excise taxes paid by users of the National Airspace System. But the reporters failed to note that trust fund revenues come from excise taxes on items including domestic passenger tickets and aviation fuel.
Projects eligible for AIP grants include improvements that enhance or improve airport safety, capacity, and security, or meet environmental concerns. Airport sponsors can use AIP funds on most airfield capital improvements or repairs and in some specific situations, for terminals, hangars, and nonaviation development.
The FAA has noted the important role played by general aviation airports in the national transportation system. An 18-month study of GA airports entitled “General Aviation Airports: A National Asset” documented the many critical functions of these airports.
While GA airports have a documented economic impact on their host communities, the report effectively describes their intrinsic value as local access points to an aviation system that facilitates a wide variety of often critical public health, safety, and security needs. Of the 3,330 airports included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, only 378 support scheduled commercial air service.
For many other aviation needs, Americans rely on the other 2,952 public-use landing sites for aeromedical flights, aerial fire-fighting, law enforcement, and disaster relief. They also provide the easiest access to hundreds of remote communities across the country.
GA airports are also economic engines for the communities they serve. According to the FAA’s report, in 2009 (the last year for which figures are available), general aviation contributed $38.8 billion in economic output. Including manufacturing and visitor expenditures, GA accounted for an even larger contribution of $76.5 billion.
At the GA airports alone, non-airline operators spent more than $12 billion, making an estimated 27 million flights for emergency medical services, agricultural functions, time-sensitive air cargo services, fire-fighting, law enforcement and border control, flight training, business travel, and some scheduled services. GA in Wisconsin also supported 9,390 jobs and provided $259 million in personal income in 2010. The total impact of all aviation in the state is $6.9 billion in output, 90,900 jobs, and $3.5 billion personal income earned in 2010.
Members are being urged again to send an email to WTMJ-TV Vice President and General Manager Steve Wexler and encourage him to look at the benefits of GA in Wisconsin. Members can also comment on the story at the station’s Facebook page.
AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.
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