Members of Congress have taken exception to USA Today’s Sept. 17 article and Sept. 24 editorial that claimed the federal government was wasting money on general aviation airports through the Airport Improvement Program.
During a Sept. 24 Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who was interviewed by USA Today for the Sept. 17 article, said the reporter left out his comments “defending small airports and pointing out how important they are to the lifeblood of communities, citing specific examples in several states.”
In an effort to right the inaccuracies, members of Congress are reaching out to their colleagues to explain the importance of the program. Active pilot and AOPA member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), General Aviation Caucus co-chairs Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) and Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), and 11 other members of Congress issued a “Dear Colleague” letter Sept. 28 explaining how the AIP works and where the money goes.
“It’s very disturbing when a major newspaper like that does not bother to take the time to get the facts straight before they write a major article like this, especially with their nationwide circulation,” Ehlers said during the hearing. “I think we have to speak up against that and make them aware of the situation.”
“Members of Congress have mobilized quickly in response to the one-sided USA Today story in an effort to prevent it from misleading their colleagues,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “When these elected officials stand up for GA, it adds weight to AOPA’s efforts to help those on Capitol Hill better understand the importance of GA.”
AIP funds go only to facilities in the National Plan of Integrated Airports System (NPIAS) and are used to increase safety, enhance security, and address environmental concerns, not to subsidize operational costs. Airports in the NPIAS are “considered to be significant to national air transportation,” the letter emphasized, further stating that without these airports, many communities would be left “without a vital lifeline for disaster relief efforts ... and other emergency services which aviation access provides across America.”
The letter also broke down how the federal money is allocated to large and small public-use airports. “Currently, every large airport eligible for AIP entitlement funding can receive a maximum of $22 million annually. In comparison, small airports receive a maximum of $150,000,” they wrote. “We cannot stress enough the necessity of this funding for not only large and urban airports, but also for small and rural airports.”
According to the FAA, 75 percent of the eligible project costs at large and medium primary hub airports can be covered by AIP grants; 95 percent of the cost can be covered for general aviation airports, with the airport sponsors covering the remainder.
Also during the Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, Oberstar spoke about the importance of another type of funding for GA airports—federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The stimulus money, designed to augment funding from the AIP, is earmarked for “shovel ready” programs identified by state departments of transportation. (See “Money well spent” in the October 2009 AOPA Pilot. ) The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee receives reports every 30 days and has held a series of oversight hearings about the Recovery Act investments.
Members of Congress stepped forward to voice their support for general aviation in the wake of back-to-back negative publicity from USA Today.
Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.)
Sam Graves (R-Mo.)
Allen Boyd (D-Fla.)
Tom Petri (R-Wis.)
Bob Filner (D-Calif.)
Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
Charles Dent (R-Pa.)
Harold Rogers (R-Ky.)
Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)
Connie Mack (R-Fla.)
Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa)
Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)
Jerry Costello (D-Ill.)
Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.)