In the News at Design/Build

Airports, consultants, and government officials again meet for the annual design/build symposium, held in Reno.

RENO — Each year, leading representatives from aviation consulting firms and airports, along with government officials, meet for the Airport Design & Construction Symposium. This time out, two of the key topics of discussion were future system funding and the concept of airports getting into refueling and other airline ground services. And, as has been the case at this meeting for several years, an overriding theme was that of
sustainability — planning and building facilities that are sustainable over the long term and take into account environmental, efficiency, and
employee considerations.

The annual symposium is co-sponsored by the Airport Consultants Council and the American Association of Airport Executives. It brings together professionals involved in planning, construction management, information technology, and other disciplines related to airport development.

Rusty Chapman, manager of the Southern Region of the Federal Aviation Administration, led the funding discussion, presenting the case for the agency’s proposed restructuring of how the U.S. aviation system is funded. “The Administration wants to keep grants flowing to the airports that need them,” explains Chapman.

FAA is seeking a three-year authorization package, beginning October 1, that cuts Airport Improvement Program funding below recent levels; redefines general aviation airports by activity and subsequent funding entitlement levels; and, seeks to phase out entitlements to large and medium hub airports in return for increases in the passenger facility charge (PFC) cap, now set at $4.50.

FAA wants to increase the PFC cap to $6, while airport groups prefer a new cap of $7.50. Both proposals would index the cap to inflation, long a point of contention for airports. Chapman says the net effect of a PFC increase is an increase in capital development funds to the industry. The agency also wants to remove many of the restrictions related to PFC applications, and to allow airports to begin collecting the fees while a proposal is under consideration.

The agency wants to change how it categorizes general aviation airports, creating a four-tier rating system. Airports such as Teterboro (NJ) with more than 100 based aircraft would be eligible for entitlements of $400,000; airports with less than ten based aircraft would not receive an annual entitlement, though they could be eligible for ad hoc grants for special projects.

Chapman says that FAA is also trying to bring more “common sense” into the funding process for smaller airports. For example, the agency wants to make self-fueling islands and hangar renovation eligible for federal dollars, which they currently are not. At least one agency official compares the move with what occurred in the 1990s with pavement maintenance, where at one time FAA could help finance construction of a runway but could not grant money for maintaining the pavement.

Speaking for the airport community, Krys Bart, A.A.E., executive director for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority and vice chair of AAAE, commends FAA’s initiative on its funding proposal, despite much industry disagreement. She explains that larger airports are willing to forego AIP entitlement grants for PFC levels that can be adjusted, with $7.50 the minimum. Bart says that FAA’s proposal of a $6 PFC cap “will never get us there.”

Other items highlighted by FAA from its proposal include:

  • a provision that calls for creation of a commission to evaluate the airport system, much like what’s been done with military bases in recent years;
  • a provision for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to explore congestion pricing mechanisms as a way to manage capacity, providing an alternative to slots; and,
  • removing restrictions for allowing more than one large airport to participate in FAA’s airport privatization program, now that Chicago Midway has applied.
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