Are Airports being shortchanged in the Economic Stimulus Package?

By Kenn Potts
Now that all the hype of the Economic Stimulus or the American Recovery and Investment Act is settling down, let’s take a look on how airports fared in the money allocation.

We started in the House with a proposed $3 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) with $500 million for Explosive Detection Systems (EDS), and the Senate proposed $1plus billion for AIP and $1.2 billion for EDS. We ended up with $1.1 billion for AIP and $1 billion for EDS. What happened here? We usually end up with an amount between the House and Senate, not less.

The website lists the breakdown of the recovery funds for FY2009 as 64% for Health, 18% for Education, 6% for Income Security, 8% for Transportation, 3% for Community Development, and 1% Energy and Environment. By FY2012, 1% is for Health; 19% for Education; 17% for Income Security, 30% for Transportation, 16% for Community Development, and 17% for Energy and Environment. This site lists $20,462,533,829 available for transportation. The AIP of $1 billion shows up as a percentage of five percent. Wow!   

On the website, the following is a direct quote:
“As part of the $150 billion investment in new infrastructure, enact the largest increase in funding of our nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s;”. What happened to airports? Are we included or do we get the smallest increase? Check out the website at I found it hard to follow all the big numbers.

Recent news reports on wasteful stimulus spending highlight $3.4 million for the design of an underground turtle and wildlife tunnel in Florida. The construction cost is estimated at $6 million. This money could fund a runway or taxiway somewhere. These funds would construct a good size apron. I am sure the turtles will appreciate the tunnel and the aircraft owners will just have to get by with crumbling infrastructure.  Will the teenage turtles use the tunnel or play chicken on the road? Also, the airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania was on the list for wasteful stimulus spending. But most of the $200 million in funds are for the military use. This ‘exposure” certainly does not help our cause to get more funds for airports. Just what we need – “an airport for no one” paraded in the news.

We all know the economic importance of airports. But where is the money in support of this importance? We can make a very strong case that we are being shortchanged in the economic stimulus package. We do the same when we argue every year with renewal of the Airport Improvement Program. We need to continue to make our needs known to Congress and not let up. Maybe we should contact the turtles in Florida for advice.

Kenn Potts has spent 25 years in airport mangement. He has worked at airports in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Jacksonville, North Carolina and Burlington, Vermont. Potts, an accredited airport executive (AAE) is currently working at the Arizona Department of Transportation in airport planning. He holds an MBA from Western Michigan University, is a private pilot and has interests in photography and motorcycling.