Congressional impasse on FAA funding holds AIP grants hostage

The fall-out from the Congressional impasse on the pending FAA Reauthorization continues.

That’s because grants from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) cannot be released by FAA officials until the legislation is passed — or Congress gives FAA officials “contract authority,” which would allow them to start parceling out the grant money to airports.

“A continued delay in releasing AIP grants will have serious consequences on the ability of airports to meet their obligations in the short-term and to build projects that play a critical role in meeting long-term needs at their facilities,” said Chip Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives. Congress approved more than $3.5 billion in funding for the program as part of the fiscal year 2008 omnibus spending package. However, a failure to provide contract authority for the AIP program has prevented the FAA from releasing those funds to airports for “critical infrastructure upgrades,” he said.

What that means is smaller airports could face the prospect of defaulting on airport bonds if grants to fulfill Letters of Intent are delayed, he said.

“Additionally, airport sponsors need assurances quickly that the FAA will release grants soon, so they can issue bids for projects and take advantage of the construction season,” he noted.

Barclay said that the economic stimulus package introduced by President Bush late last month “offers the perfect opportunity” for Congress to give the FAA the authority to release those AIP funds.

“By making a simple change to provide FAA with the authority it needs to spend money that has already been appropriated for airport development, Congress can quickly make big strides in priming the nation’s economic pump and building critical airport infrastructure,” he said. “It’s a win-win for our economy and our nation’s aviation system.”

According to the Department of Transportation, each $1 billion in new infrastructure investment creates 47,500 jobs and $6.2 billion in economic activity. Barclay noted that, in addition to keeping important federal spending out of the economy, the failure of Congress to provide AIP contract authority has caused disruptions at airports as critical safety, security, and capacity projects face delay.

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