FAA Administrator Marion Blakey recently called massive cuts in aid to airports "tough medicine." But AOPA is asking Congress for a "second opinion" and a prescription a bit more friendly to preserving general aviation airports.
As we've told you before, the FAA wants to cut nearly $1 billion from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the program that gives federal dollars to airports in the form of grants for maintenance and improvements. That would cut airport funding by more than one third, and most of the cut would be at the expense of GA airports.
But the FAA isn't the final authority on its budget. Congress is, and the association has sent a copy of AOPA President Phil Boyer's June editorial to every member of Congress to make sure they understand the tremendous damage that would be done to GA airports if they acquiesce to the FAA's proposal.
And Congress is listening. This week, the House Appropriations Committee passed the transportation funding bill and restored the $1 billion for airports cut by the FAA. (The bill still has to be passed by the full House and the Senate.)
In a personal note to the senators and representatives, Boyer asked that they approve $3.7 billion for airport funding, not the $2.7 billion the FAA asked for. "These airports play an important role in our transportation system, allowing the air traffic system to operate more efficiently and safely," Boyer reminded Congress. "Federal investments in these airports are vital to the local, state, and national economy."
It's also vital to keeping airports open. As Boyer noted in his editorial, the lack of existing federal grants was a major problem in fighting the demolition of Meigs Field in Chicago. Conversely, "Airport Improvement Program funds have helped us keep a number of GA airports open and operating without unjust restrictions," Boyer said, citing several California airports as recent examples.
AIP entitlement funds are particularly important to smaller GA airports, because they can be used to build revenue-producing projects such as hangars and fuel farms. "These projects can help keep the airport financially affordable for smaller communities," said Boyer. The FAA's budget proposal would eliminate the AIP entitlement funds for small GA airports.
"GA airports depend heavily on AIP funds for critical projects like repairing runways and repaving ramps, installing lights, removing obstacles to instrument approaches, and a host of other safety and capacity projects," said Boyer. "That's why your association is going to the mat to restore the FAA's ill-considered cut in airport funding."
Updated: June 14, 2006, 9:52 a.m. EDT