States prepare their airports for AIR-21 funding monies
By By Jordanna Smida, Associate Editor
LONG BEACH, CA — While the state aviation officials gathered for the annual National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) conference, officials spoke with AIRPORT BUSINESS on AIR-21 and the challenges of preparing for disseminating the funds to airports.
As the first stage of proposed funding
of AIR-21 nears completion, states across the country are beginning to
prepare their airports for what lies ahead.
Vice president of NASAO, Lori Leonard says educating the airports, specifically the smaller general aviation airports, should be the states’ priority.
"I think the most important thing is to educate the sponsor in what it means to take a grant... It’s important for them to look at their airport plan, the needs that are there, what their facilities are at this point and what the forecasts are for demand of the airport, what needs they want to meet, and how they want to do that. It has to be agreed upon by everybody so as they start planning to spend the funds that they have a positive plan in place (that) the state, the sponsor, and FAA can all agree to."
The state of Mississippi has 66 general aviation airports eligible for funds. In 1998 the state completed its airport system plan, which according to state director Elton Jay, most of the airports are using as a guide for what’s needed and what’s eligible. Like Jay, many other airports are holding regional meetings with FAA officials and the airports to educate them on the grant and funding procedures.
"A problem is that some of these small airports haven’t had a grant in five or ten years and the administration has changed, engineers changed, and they don’t have anybody locally that is familiar with the program," he says.
Many other states are encountering similar obstacles, and as a result are taking on a liaison role between their airports and the FAA.
In 1995, Florida, which has 80 publicly owned general aviation airports and spends over $100 million a year on its airports, developed a partnership database of needs with the airports, the FAA, and the state. The airport needs are placed in the database and reviewed by the state and the FAA to project what can be funded, explains William Ashbaker, state aviation manager for Florida. Though the database has created a solid working relationship between the three groups, Ashbaker says there is still a need for some education on grant applications.
UTILIZING THE FUNDS
Though additional Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds will ease some airport projects, many states are concerned about how they will match and utilize the funds.
Jay, whose state intends to take this opportunity to bring its airports up to standard, says, "The burden will be in the decisionmaking. We have to determine which airports will have to roll their money over to 2002 or 2003 to fund a project. We have a good handle on 2001, and with 2002 and 2003, what will really impact that is how much state apportionmate money we get in addition to this $150,000 per airport. Not until we know that will we know which one we can actually fund in 2002."
One of the biggest challenges the airports face, Ashbaker says, is coming up with the local match. Florida provides 80 percent of the funding and the small airports are required to fund the re-maining 20 per-cent or get FAA dollars, he says.
Florida is working closely with the FAA to plan airport needs and both are in the pro-cess of deter-ming how the funds will be disseminated. "Originally we’d talked with them about having them pass the money to us and we would include it in our grants for the small airports," Ashbaker says.
Matching AIP grants is also a concern for California, which matches 5 percent of the funding for its 255 airports, explains Marlin Beckworth, California program manager. "I have a certain dollar amount set aside for AIP matching purposes. With the increase in funding that may or may not be sufficient to match the grants that come in to the state. We’re going to have to take a hard look at that and ensure that we’re not a bottleneck in terms of our AIP matching process," he says.
Beckworth also says his state isn’t comfortable with the allocation formula, noting some airports will be left out. He’s also concerned, like many other states, that some airports don’t have the administrative capability to handle the funding. His goal is to as-sess the funding plans for non-NPIAS (National Plan of Integrated Airport Sys-tems) airports and look at solutions like swapping funds between the state and federal level in order to compensate for some of those holes in the process.
One of the challenges block-grant state Wisconsin faces, according to airport programs section chief, Dan Finklemeyer, is the airports that have already completed projects and don’t have another on the books. "We’re meeting with those airports to lay out what monies we think will be available," he says. Currently, 37 airports in the state have the potential to receive entitlements.
According to Leonard, some states are looking to get groups together and have the state manage the grant. She says some states are discussing options such as combining pavement maintenance projects. The state would contract, advertise, and bid the project with the airports getting the projects they need completed, she explains. "I think the other thing the states can consider is doing projects where they can find a cost-effective way of getting the projects done at a variety of airports across the state."
A Program Guidance Letter, which addresses how FAA plans to implement the non-primary airport entitlements, was mailed out last month. "We worked with NASAO to make sure everybody thought we had come up with a common sense approach to the implementation," Catherine Lang, FAA’s director of airport planning & programming, says. "It’s challenging. We’re going to be dealing with almost 2,000 airports who are eligible to receive an entitlement grant for the first time," she adds. Grants will range from $1,000 to 150,000. The agency, both directly and in working with the states, is contacting the airports to inform them if they are eligible, what projects are eligible, what they need to do to make application to use the funds, and a basic outline of sponsor assurance requirements, Lang explains. "We’re being very aggressive to make sure everybody knows if they qualify under the new law."
NASAO officials remind states and their airports that there are no guarantees with the AIR-21 funding monies.
"I have no idea how AIR-21 is going to turn out except that AIP is theoretically fully funded, but we’ll see when we get there. I’ll be confident it was a good bill when we’ve spent the money," says Henry Ogrodzinski, NASAO president and CEO.
Leonard says the organization will continue to work for additional AIP funding. "We will certainly be out during the year educating the members of the transportation appropriations committee and anybody else we need to work with on the Hill, the House, Senate, and aviation subcommittees in support of the funding," she says.
Many states are also realizing that getting their legislators and government officials involved in aviation may help pave the way to additional funding. Leonard encourages state and airport officials to invite their legislators to events such as the annual Experimental Aircraft Association’s show in Oshkosh, WI, or the annual National Business Aviation Association conference. "It affords them an opportunity to meet with their constituents," she says.
Another strategy Leonard encourages is for states to continue sharing their economic impact studies with their state legislators. "It’s important for them to see that it’s an impact on the community," she adds.
Ogrodzinski, putting the importance of AIP funding into perspective, says, "Every Friday afternoon we close Wall Street... If we did that with our airports, general aviation and commercial alike, this country’s economy would grind to a halt."
FAA Issues AIP Guidelines
Last month FAA sent out a memorandum regarding AIR-21 provisions that affect funding for non-primary airports. Below are excerpts of the Program Guidance Letter’s guidelines on those changes.
AIR-21, section 104 (f), amends the Title 49, United States. code,
section 47117 (e)(1), to establish a new reliever airport set-aside
when the total annual amount made available for the AIP (Airport
Improvement Program) is $3.2 billion or more.
Parameters for this reliever set-aside include annual operations (more than 75,000), landing distance (5,000 feet), based aircraft (100 or more), precision instrument procedures (localizer and glide slope unit, microwave landing system, or interim standard micro-wave landing system), and delay for commercial passenger aircraft at the airport relieved (20,000 hours annually).
We recommend that there should be a discussion of the basic provisions of AIP eligibility, funding plans, and assurances with which the airport will be required to comply. Airports should not receive a grant for any year when no work is required.
It is important that FAA procedures typically applied to projects should not unnecessarily impede the issuance of smaller grants to non-primary airports. For example, an airport may want to use its entitlement for pavement maintenance or a similar eligible purpose and not have funds available to develop an extensive airport layout plan.
If a location or sponsor decides to carry over its entitlement as a result of the annual Federal Register notice, conversions of those funds to discretionary funds for other uses do not deprive the location or sponsor of those funds in the future.
A state may sponsor airport development projects at one or more airports within its boundaries if the sponsor gives its written consent and we find that there is administrative merit and aero-nautical benefit.
There may be a number of airports that have never had a financial relationship under the AIP, or have not had one in many years, who will now qualify for the entitlement under this program. Regions should actively contact eligible airports as soon as possible. This contact should advise the sponsor of the potential entitlement and provide basic information regarding requirements.