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FAA funding bill means increased share for Idaho

As people around the country gathered to celebrate the centennial of flight, President George W. Bush signed into law the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration four-year, $60 billion reauthorization bill.

Dubbed “Vision 100 – The Century of Aviation Act,” the bill provides $14 billion for airport construction projects nationwide, $140 million to help small communities attract and retain air service, $308 million to ensure air service to isolated communities, and $2 billion to create more efficient security screening at airports.

The bill is touted as helpful to the aviation industry. It certainly is viewed as a major boost for Idaho, says Bill Statham of ITD’s Division of Aeronautics. The new bill ensures the continuation of much-needed federal funds for small airports and significantly eases the financial burden on airport owners and the state for their share of improvement costs.

“This enables us to provide a much greater bang for the dollars we put into our airports,” Statham says.

Those dollars make their way from the FAA to local airports through the Airport Improvement Program. The grant program supports security improvements, basic maintenance, and most often, pavement rehabilitation projects. The program also has a 90/10 match requirement, with 90 percent funding provided by the FAA and the remainder shared equally by the respective airport and the state.

What’s significant with the new bill is a change in that formula.

“Projects for the next four years will be funded with 95 percent FAA money, and a 5 percent match, which is usually shared 50-50 between the state and airport owner,” Statham says.

No small accomplishment, considering reauthorization history. For Statham’s 20 years in the business, the ratio has remained at 90-10.

“It knocks our commitment of funds in half. What it allows us to do is put money into the smaller airports that have been under-funded for decades. Most of the small airports don’t qualify for federal money and they haven’t been able to keep up,” he adds. “This will give us a chance to help them catch up.”

The reauthorization bill makes two other modest changes that are significant to Idaho.

The first allows airports that can’t use available grant funds to designate another airport to receive those funds. This could happen when matching funds are not available, or the pavement is in good condition and grant money simply isn’t needed at the time.

Previous legislation required the funds to return to the FAA pot, Statham says. Now, it can stay in state and help another Idaho airport.

The other change is a carry-over provision, allowing airports to accumulate up to four years’ worth of grant funds, held by the FAA until the airport is ready to put it to use.

“Over four years’ time, one large grant could make a huge difference,” Statham says.

Photo caption: The new FAA bill will help small airports like Hailey's Freidman Memorial Airport attempt to attract commercial air service.