When USA Today ran two articles on Dec. 14 questioning FAA expenditures at general aviation and small commercial airports, AOPA President Craig Fuller responded immediately. In a letter to the editor, Fuller said the newspaper’s position ignores the needs of millions of Americans.
“Priority and value are not necessarily the same thing,” wrote Fuller. “A project that receives a low priority at a national level may be of inestimable value to a local community.”
AOPA, the American Association of Airport Executives, and the FAA told USA Today that the FAA’s priority scoring does not tell the whole story. The FAA is required to take into account local needs as well as national priorities.
Quoted in one of the articles, Fuller said, “A very important part of the FAA’s mission is to support community airports.”
In his letter, he noted that the articles suffered from one of the potentially deadliest mistakes a pilot can make. “The premise of the articles—that some projects with low priority scores received funding—fixates on a single data point,” he wrote. “And as any pilot can tell you, fixating leads to a loss of situational awareness.”
He also reminded the editors that major air carrier airports have a source of funding that is not available to general aviation airports—passenger facility charges paid by airline customers. “[T]hose airports use PFC funds to pay for the low priority projects for which smaller commercial and general aviation airports must rely on the FAA,” he wrote.
Concluding his letter, Fuller said focusing exclusively on highest priority projects would be shortsighted.
“Suggesting that only the highest priority projects at the airports that serve the highest volume of travelers receive funding is to suggest that the federal government should only repair and improve Interstate highways and ignore the rest of the federal highway system. That makes no sense. And neither would favoring only the biggest and busiest at the expense of the rest of the nation’s air transportation system.”