By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
January/ February 2001
Tapping AIP dollars to keep up runways, ramps, taxiways
general aviation airport pavements has been something
of a headache over the years because many airports and
their state aviation departments couldn't afford to
do it. That could be changing if states decide to take
advantage of a change in Federal Aviation Administration
rules and use some of their Airport Improvement Program
(AIP) apportionment to do repair and maintenance on
GA runways, taxiways, and ramps.
Most of the nation's general aviation or non-primary airports' airside pavement was built in large part with federal money. That money brought with it a requirement that the airport maintain the pavement in good, safe condition throughout its projected life.
However, that requirement was not backed up with any financial assistance that would enable small airports to take care of wear and tear on pavement. In other words, the FAA would help build or rebuild a runway but it wouldn't, couldn't, help maintain it.
Consequently, GA airport managers, many with little or no operating budgets, tended to let their pavements deteriorate to the point that they could not be patched and repaired - they had to be rebuilt. As one aviation official summarized the situation, "Any airport manager with any brains (would tell you), the logical thing to do is not maintain your pavements and wait until they're falling apart and then get a huge grant to reconstruct."
The AIP, in its 50-year history, has strictly been a capital investment program and was never designed to be used in the operation and maintenance of airports.
However, the FAA recognized in the 1990s that if it allowed AIP money to be spent on maintenance, the pavement would last longer and the agency would save millions of dollars in the long term that it was spending on reconstruction.
1997 Pilot Program
With that in mind, the FAA gained authorization from Congress to implement a pilot program in 1997 to allow the use of AIP funds for pavement maintenance.
Over two years, nine projects or pilot grants in six states involving 52 airports were awarded.
The pilot program was judged a success and led directly to a change in AIP rules, as outlined in AIR-21 and as stated in the guidelines, "permitting AIP funds to be used for routine work to preserve/extend useful life of runways, taxiways, and aprons at non-primary airports."
Mark Beisse, an FAA airport program specialist, explains, "We felt that those nine projects showed that there was a need out there.''
And, he adds, "before we started this pilot we did some in-house calculations. I mean it became obvious that this makes sense. It is common sense. It isn't something that anybody is going to argue too much with until you get to the threshold of the larger airports. They can maintain the runways themselves."
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