Washington state study warns of airport funding gaps

May 6, 2014

Washington state’s 134 public-use airports will need $3.6 billion to fund projects in the next 20 years, according to a new report from the state’s Department of Transportation Aviation Division. State airports, excluding Seattle-Tacoma International, will need more than $241 million in aviation investment and matching funds for federal Airport Improvement Program grants in the next 20 years.

Under the present state aeronautics funding program, only $28 million of state funding is expected to be available. The study, which evaluated the need for maintenance, safety, and capacity enhancement projects at 134 public-use airports, was conducted by aviation consultant CH2M Hill. It was guided by a 24-member advisory committee comprised of  airport, airline, general aviation, medical services, and business and elected officials from across the state, including David Ulane, AOPA's Washington-based Northwest Mountain regional manager.

The study noted that failure to adequately fund necessary safety and capacity improvement projects at the state’s airports could result in an opportunity cost of $2 billion in total economic output, 13,600 jobs not provided, and $74 million in foregone tax revenues. In summary, the study identified nearly $3 billion of eligible airport improvement needs at airports in the state, excluding larger primary commercial-service airports. During that same time frame, total available federal, state, and local funding is expected to be only $1.7 billion, leaving a total funding gap of over $1.2 billion.

The Washington State Department of Transportation Aviation Division is using the study to identify short- and long-term statewide airport infrastructure needs, understand past and current funding mechanisms and levels to support airport capital projects, and understand the impact of gaps between forecast funding and needs.

The next step for the aviation division is to conduct a follow-on study to evaluate potential strategies, policies, and mechanisms to address the gap, and ensure that the state continues to enjoy the benefits of a robust, safe, well-maintained, and efficient system of airports. The follow-on study will kick off in late May, and Ulane will continue to participate as a member of the study’s advisory committee.

“Airports in Washington state will require significant investments going forward to maintain an adequate level of safety and efficiency. Presently in the state, not all of the revenues collected from aviation activities are reinvested in aviation,” said Ulane. “The results of this study could help ensure that future aviation revenues are used for aviation purposes, and ensure a viable system of airports for Washington state residents and visitors.”

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.