by Kyle Lewis
Regional Manager / Government Affairs & Airport Advocacy / Great Lakes
Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2019 Issue
A question that is always being asked by airports – large and small – is “how can we find or become eligible for more grant money?” Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all answer. If the question is specific to FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) monies, the competition is tough, and the eligibility is black and white. AIP is dependent on National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) status, airport category, eligibility and scope of requested project, and the ability of the sponsor to pay local match portions of the grant (usually 10% of total project cost for GA airports).
These AIP-funded projects must be on an approved Airport Layout Plan (ALP) and 5-year or 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that is submitted to the FAA by the airport sponsor. Eligible airports also receive “entitlement grants” at $150,000 per year for GA airports, and can be banked for 4 years to be used on larger projects. $600,000 can go a long way toward a ramp, taxiway, or runway rehabilitation. This is a very basic explanation of how FAA AIP grant funding works, and if you would like a more in-depth read, visit AOPA’s Airport Advocacy webpages, seek out your local AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer, or visit the FAA’s AIP funding website at FAA.gov/airports/aip.
Along with FAA funding, most states offer state-level airport grants borne of state appropriated funds. In general, these grants are for the same type of projects that the FAA funds, but less money is in the pot, so to speak. States also try to pay 50% of the local share of an FAA-awarded grant, which lessens the burden on an airport sponsor. When a state can pay matching funds, more FAA grants are leveraged in that state, so a win-win for airports!
States are mandated by the FAA to retain aviation fuel sales tax revenues in a dedicated aviation fund, specifically for investment in the aviation system to that state. Unfortunately, not all 50 states are meeting the requirement, and AOPA is actively engaged in states that are not yet in line with the FAA policy.
Another somewhat unique situation falls to “block grant” states. In my region, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois all receive a block grant from the FAA, which is basically a large chunk of money, to be administered on behalf of the FAA by the specific state to airports. There are currently 10 block grant states across the country with the FAA looking into allowing 10 more into the program.
The above explanation is the “in the box” funding for airports. What else is available? Depends on where you look! There is a slew of local monies to be had; it is just a matter of being proactive and finding the correct source.
Local economic development partnerships may have grants or money available for investment. The hurdle to overcome, is finding the right person to be the advocate for the airport. AOPA’s Airport Support Network (ASN) is positioned to be just that. Find out who that person is, and if your airport does not have an ASN volunteer, think about becoming that individual.
The easiest way for an airport to grow, or to become more visible as an economic driver in the community, is to become partnered with the community. Educate the local leaders, and show the real value of the airport to neighbors. Remember, airplane noise is usually the sound of progress. Of course, the stigma remains that airplanes are just for the rich, and we all know that is a false statement. Make aviation valuable to a local high school STEM program, turn interest into careers, and build up the airport community by being a good neighbor!
Another question we often field from members is how can my airport build more hangars? In short, the FAA does not consider hangar construction a priority project. Hangars can only be AIP eligible when all other airside safety related items have been addressed – obstruction removal, pavements, lighting systems, etc.
Hangar construction becomes a local issue, and funding can be provided from the airport sponsor or from private investments. Many airports allow land leases, and private hangar construction on that leased public land. Reversionary clauses in those leases are commonplace and necessary for the airport sponsor to retain “exclusive rights” under the federal grant obligations. The basis is, the structure will become property of the airport sponsor at the end of the lease. Terms vary, but it is common to see 20 and 30-year leaseholds (with a lease extension or renewal in some cases). Some leases allow for the sale of the structure, or removal, but that is uncommon. If your airport is interested in this avenue, AOPA can help educate and provide resources on how this works and what FAA requirements may need to be met. The public-private partnership investment model is becoming more commonplace at airports and is common sense for sustainability of the airport.
T-hangars are also constructed and managed by third party investment, under similar lease terms as the private hangars. This may be a more cost-effective alternative for the tenant.
Again, these are all very general explanations of funding and investment sources. I would encourage you to contact me with specific questions related to the individual situation.
During the fall, I will be attending conferences in Indiana and Wisconsin. The Aviation Indiana Conference is held in Michigan City, October 15-16 at the Blue Chip Casino. The Wisconsin Airport Operations and Land Use Conference will be held October 29-30 at Hotel Mead, Wisconsin Rapids. AOPA will be presenting at both, so please say hello if you are attending!
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