A recent CBS News story on stimulus spending at general aviation airports criticized the funding of “little-used airports or ones catering to recreational flyers, corporate jets, and remote communities.” AOPA was made aware of the story by the president of the Williamson Flying Club, who was included in the CBS story, and worked with him in advance of the interview, providing him with statistical information to help explain the value of GA airports and the importance of infrastructure improvements at smaller airports.
The association also reached out to the producer of the CBS story, offering the association’s assistance, but CBS chose to interview the Department of Transportation (DOT).
“We were looking for projects that airports in areas around the country desperately needed to be done for safety and security concerns,” a DOT spokeswoman told CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
Yet the report argued that small, rural airports are getting funding while safety issues at major national airports get little attention. Safety is a top priority in the distribution of money for airport improvements, including stimulus money as well as regular Airport Improvement Program grants and money raised by passenger facility charges (PFCs) at commercial airports.
The report cited the example of Los Angeles International (LAX), which it said doesn’t have the money to install critical taxiway warning lights. The stimulus package does not provide funding for the taxiway warning lights, but it does provide $15 million to construct an aircraft rescue and fire fighting building at Los Angeles International. Los Angeles International also receives Airport Improvement Program grants and collects PFCs.
The CBS report also states that Congress’s stimulus rules “don’t give priority to the most congested airports or biggest safety problems.” In fact, the FAA used an established priority system that takes congestion and safety into account to distribute the $1.1 billion for airport infrastructure improvement projects from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Airport grants from the Recovery Act are distributed through a vetted process the FAA has in place to fund high-priority airport improvement projects across the nation each year. The three- to five-year process of identifying, planning, and prioritizing infrastructure development projects is designed to ensure that federal funds go to eligible, feasible, and warranted development at airports, including both commercial service and general aviation airports.
In awarding grants, the FAA gives the highest priority to projects that enhance the safety and security of America’s airport system. Other goals include preserving and upgrading the existing airport system to allow for increased capacity and efficient use of existing capacity; improving the compatibility of airports with surrounding communities; and providing sufficient access to an airport for the majority of the American public. Because many communities do not have access to commercial service airports, general aviation airports play an important role in providing Americans with access to the nation’s air transportation system.