Airports have $32.5 billion worth of improvement projects eligible for federal grant funding over the next five years, but can expect to receive only half of that amount in grant awards unless Congress adopts a Senate plan to re-calibrate aviation infrastructure funding mechanisms, said three aviation advocacy groups in letters to House and Senate committees.
Refocusing the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and “modernizing” the Passenger Facility Charge—the federally authorized fee charged by local airport authorities as part of the price of an airline ticket—“would ensure commercial service and general aviation airports have the resources they need to repair aging facilities, enhance aviation safety, and build necessary infrastructure,” said the Nov. 29 letters signed by AOPA President Mark Baker, American Association of Airport Executives President Todd Hauptli, and Airports Council International-North America President Kevin Burke.
Airports have “enormous capital needs” but limited ways to pay for the projects, the groups said, citing an estimate in the FAA’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems that airports have $32.5 billion in AIP-eligible projects to be funded over the next five years.
In recent years, however, airports have received grants worth only about half their eligible funding level, despite the fact that funds “come from users of the aviation system—not the taxpayer-supported general fund,” the groups said.
Last April, Baker brought that concern to a congressional panel when testifying before the subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation during an FAA reauthorization hearing. The session focused on perspectives on rural air service and the general aviation community.
The Senate bill contains provisions that could “improve our nation’s entire airport ecosystem, help the economy by supporting good-paying jobs, and turn infrastructure decision-making authority to local communities where it rightly belongs,” the aviation groups wrote, urging that the essential provisions of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the grant funding methods be included in the final appropriations package.
“Specifically, the Senate proposal would recalibrate AIP to focus limited federal dollars on the smaller commercial service and general aviation airports that rely on AIP grants the most. Thus, larger airports would forego AIP entitlement funds in exchange for additional local flexibility, leaving those resources—which are significant—to flow through the Small Airport Fund and provide additional AIP grants for small commercial service and general aviation airports,” the letters said.