USA Today launched another attack on federal funding for general aviation airports this week with two articles questioning funding for privately owned, public-use reliever airports.
Airports designated as “relievers” are eligible for federal grants because they reduce congestion at commercial airports in metropolitan areas by giving GA users an alternative place to land. The newspaper published two stories Dec. 31 claiming that many privately owned relievers provide little benefit to the general public and questioning whether the public funds should go toward supporting them. AOPA provided a statement to the reporter about the importance of reliever airports, including privately owned facilities, to the nation's transportation infrastructure, but the newspaper chose not to include it.
The articles portray these relievers as “private airports” that are “used exclusively for private airplanes.” All of the airports in question are public-use, and while they may not have commercial service, they comprise a valuable component of the national aviation system. Small airports support business aviation, medical services, and disaster relief. By portraying privately owned relievers as playgrounds for the rich, the articles ignore the role of small airports in providing access to small communities and connecting all parts of the nation.
The FAA awards grants each year for airport improvement projects across the country to ensure that the national system of airports continues to run safely and efficiently. More than 3,400 existing and proposed airports are considered significant to national air transportation and thus eligible to receive federal grants under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). Of those, 269 are considered relievers. Only 43 relievers are privately owned, according to data from the FAA. Privately owned relievers are subject to the same grant obligations as any other airport that receives federal money.
AOPA encourages members to speak out to set the record straight. Pilots can write to USA Today about the value of GA airports and tell members of their community about the value of their local airport.