The general aviation apron at Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda, Fla., is 67 years old. Even though the pavement is cracked and worn, the apron never seemed to rank quite high enough on the list of priorities to warrant federal funding for rehabilitation. But the airport authority worked quickly when Congress began considering an economic stimulus package, and Charlotte County secured a grant for $2.5 million.
“Particularly at small airports, grants are key,” said airport director Gary Quill. He said it can be challenging to fund projects at small airports, but Charlotte County seized the opportunity of the stimulus package to ready plans for the apron, a project that may never have seen funding from regular grants.
As the stimulus plan was first being developed by the administration and congressional leaders late last year, AOPA sprang to action, urging state and local officials across the country to organize and present GA airport projects that would qualify for infrastructure funding. As a result, several states increased their lists of GA airport projects ready to begin construction immediately—and now GA projects like the one at Charlotte County are ready to break ground.
“From the moment we met with the Obama transition team, AOPA President Craig Fuller raised the need for including general aviation airports in the stimulus bill,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president for government affairs. “It is great to see investments being made that will help AOPA members.”
The apron at Charlotte County is just one of dozens of projects already approved through the federal stimulus package. The FAA last week released the details of $180 million in airport grants from the stimulus; this money is on top of regularly scheduled grants awarded by the FAA for infrastructure improvements at the nation’s airports.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) sets aside $1.3 billion for projects and programs administered by the FAA, comprising $1.1 billion in discretionary grants for airports and $200 million for air navigation facilities and safety equipment. All funding must be awarded within one year of enactment, by Feb. 16, 2010.
But ARRA grants are not the only federal funds flowing to airports. Each year, the FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) distributes money for airport projects such as taxiway improvements, additional lighting, and the construction of aprons. ARRA grants are similar to those of AIP, but the monies are administered separately so that stimulus money does not take the place of funding that was already scheduled.
While the two types of grants have subtle differences, their cumulative effect spells good news for aviation: Airports across the country will see an extra injection of cash for infrastructure projects, with no additional investment from local agencies.
“Investment in airports anytime is great news,” said Cebula, “but these grants give help to airports at a critical moment. They will help provide good jobs today while making an important investment for tomorrow's economic growth.”
The states are already reaping the benefits of the separate funds. In Pennsylvania, airports received approval for both types of grants this month. Gov. Edward G. Rendell announced March 23 that 24 airports in the state would receive a total of $6.6 million in federal and state funds; this money comes down through the normal process of grant appropriation, which requires a small investment from the local agency. Three additional airports in the state are among the first recipients of airport stimulus money, a federal contribution of $12.8 million. Stimulus funds require no local investment.
Like AIP grants, stimulus money carries with it an obligation to keep an airport operating at least 20 years after it receives federal money. The larger ARRA airport projects benefiting GA that have been announced so far include $11.4 million to rehabilitate a runway and taxiway at Paine Field in Everett, Wash.; $10 million to construct a terminal at Monroe Regional Airport in Monroe, La.; and $7.8 million to construct a runway at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Fayetteville/Springdale, Ark. To view a list of approved ARRA grants, see the FAA’s Web site.