AIP, PFCs, Et Al.: One on one with FAA's Dennis Roberts: On a mission to streamline the process

Sept. 8, 2004

Inside the Industry


One on one with FAA’s Dennis Roberts: On a mission to streamline the process

By John F. Infanger

September 2004

Since January, Dennis Roberts has been the director of theOffice of Airport Planning and Programming for FAA. He oversees theAirport Improvement Program and dissemination of its funds; passengerfacility charges; grants; system planning; and any related rulemakingactions. AIRPORT BUSINESS recently interviewed Roberts via telephone for an update on AIP, PFCs, and FAA priorities. His overriding message: The agency is committed to streamlining the various processes for airports. Here’s an edited transcript.

Dennis Roberts

Roberts is a 1,200-hour instrument-rated pilot with an aviation management degree and is a master’s candidate in aviation safety. He was the deputy executive director for the Louisville Kentucky Regional Airport Authority; VP-executive director of government affairs for the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association; executive director for the Division of Aeronautics for the State of Colorado; and, was director of regional air transportation planning for the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

AIRPORT BUSINESS: How has the AIP process gone for FY2004?
Roberts: So far so good. We’ve been able to meet all of our targets. We addressed a lot of the capacity issues out there in the country. We’re looking at about 2,500 grants or better nationwide; it’s really all across the board [in scope].

AB: Looking at FY2005, we havethe authorization for $3.5 billion for AIP; yet, we still need to gothrough the appropriation process for the fiscal year beginning inOctober.
Roberts: We’re hopeful that Congress will move rapidly and get us an appropriation. That’s really an area coming into this job that I’m working hard to streamline our process and make it as efficient as possible. Our goal is to get that money out to the sponsors, out into the field to the airports as quickly as possible so we can take advantage of bid-letting in the spring and subsequent construction.

AB: Any concerns, particularly since this is a presidential election year?
Roberts: No. We have our program pretty well established. We have procedures, grant formulas, the entitlements.

AB: In the 1990s, when AIP was getting some $1 billion a year, thenew Denver International became a drain on funding, leading to lettersof intent being issued by FAA. Since we’re at $3.5 billion today,are major projects such as the one proposed at Chicago O’Harea major concern?
Roberts: Remember that AIP probably only funds, on a really large project, less than 20 percent of the overall project cost. They have innovative financing programs; they go out into the bond market and have to come up with other resources for those costs associated with building the project.

We look at that, the impact of one project on the entire system as a whole.

AB: Airport groups continue to call for a deregulation ofairports. For example, some argue that an airport should be able toset its own passenger facility charge level depending on local needsand what the market can bear. Do you want to weigh in on this debate?
Roberts: We are working with the airport community to streamline the regulatory process and, specifically, working with the Department of Transportation, particularly the undersecretary, and with ACI and AAAE on ways of reducing the regulatory burden.

We’re looking now at the area of the competition plans, to the point that the recommendation now is, a covered airport, which is a medium to large hub having more than 50 percent of its traffic provided by two or fewer carriers, that they’ve had to submit a competition plan every 18 months. Those covered airports that have already done their original plans plus two updates will be relieved and excused from submitting those plans in the future, with a couple of exceptions. One has to do with denied access to a carrier; or secondly, they have major changes in their use and lease agreements. If one of those two things happen, the covered airport would have to resubmit or update its competition plan.

That has been something that has been a real burden and a concern for airports for some time.

Another area that we’re working on is there’s an NPRM (see Docket # 17999 at, in which the comment period just closed, having to do with a pilot program for PFCs at non-hub airports. This pilot program will simplify the application process for non-hub airports. If it’s successful, we will consider expanding it to the entire PFC program.It addresses things like the amount of time that a sponsor has to have a notice open to the public for comment. It also addresses specific guidelines and deadlines for the FAA to respond to amendments to the PFC application.

AB: How much are you looking at the pending arrival of the entrylevel jets, or microjets?
Roberts: We’re looking at it a lot — not only on the surface, but we recognize that we’ll have to accommodate them in the airport system. That’s an area that we’re working more closely with the air traffic organizations. We might be able to put concrete on ground to provide the surface capacity, but if we can’t handle the airspace issues we won’t have met our objective.

AB: Is the issue of the rising cost of steel, particularly becauseof the demand in China, surfacing as an issue regarding funding?
Roberts: We’ve had inquiries from various sponsors, particularly those with very large projects that did involve steel. We take that into account under project formulation; we have the ability to amend a grant over the original grant amount in the event there are unforeseen costs incurred. We’ve not seen a large-scale flood on requests because of increased costs of materials.