General aviation airports rely on federal money, making it vitally important that Congress maintain Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding at least at current levels, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) President Mark Baker told a U.S. House of Representatives Aviation Subcommittee last week.

“America’s airports are the true backbone of aviation, and without a robust airport network, aviation cannot grow,” Baker told the panel. “General aviation airports rely on AIP funds to execute a wide range of maintenance, expansion, and improvement projects that address safety, capacity, and environmental concerns. The need for such projects is high.”

Community airports rely on a variety of funding sources, including revenue generated from airport services and rentals fees, community funding, and sometimes state support.

Funding for the federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) comes from the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which receives revenues from a series of excise taxes paid by users of the national airspace system, including taxes on aviation fuels. The Trust Fund was designed to finance investments in the airport and airway system

Without federal funding, many small airports could not perform necessary maintenance projects to ensure runway safety, provide airport lighting, or offer essential facilities like hangars and aircraft tie downs, Baker said.

According to a recent FAA report to Congress, airport infrastructure needs far exceed available funding. From 2013 through 2017, the FAA estimates that airports will require some $42.5 billion to meet all AIP-eligible infrastructure development demands. That’s significantly more than the roughly $3.35 billion annual allotment.

In addition, the availability of non-primary entitlement funds depends on maintaining at least $3.2 billion in annual AIP funding. Non-primary entitlement funds are available to many general aviation airports and non-primary commercial service airports that show a demonstrated need for airfield development. General aviation airports that qualify are eligible to receive up to $150,000, making the entitlement a significant funding source for many small airports.

Mark Baker’s full testimony may be viewed at: Mark Baker’s Testimony .

The hearing was convened by Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey), who is also a member of the House General Aviation Caucus, to consider how anticipated growth in air traffic will affect the physical infrastructure of the nation’s airports and to look at sources for financing infrastructure needs.

In addition to Baker, the subcommittee heard from representatives of the FAA, the Government Accountability Office, the American Association of Airport Executives, Airlines for America, and Airports Council International.