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Alliance Responds to USA Today Story Maligning Small Airports
October 2, 2009
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  • TO: USA Today

    FROM: The Alliance for Aviation Across America

    DATE: September 17, 2009

    RE: Today’s article, “Feds keep little-used airports in business” by Thomas Frank


    Summary: This morning USA Today ran a story that not only deliberately neglects to mention the value of general aviation to our economy and rural America, but is just plain wrong on a number of key facts, including the federally-mandated purpose of AIP funding, how the federal government determines what airports are eligible for this funding, and the fact that there are entire other sources of funding that are aimed at bigger, commercial airports. In short, the article is factually inaccurate, and neglects to mention any data or evidence that runs counter to the author’s apparent pre-determined thesis.

    Here are the facts:

    1) USA Today’s story directly states that it is only “private” aviation that benefits from smaller, public-use airports.

    Truth: While the article states that “much of the money the general-aviation airports get benefits only a few private pilots,” this is just patently false, has no basis in fact, and is curiously supportive of a commercial airline-backed political effort to try to vilify general aviation. A national system of airports has long been an established federal priority. That is why the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, used by the Federal Aviation Administration, highlights that a national network of airports is essential to facilitate mail carriage, emergency evacuations, and homeland security, among many other priorities.

    2) USA Today completely ignores the safety factors that primarily determine what airports get AIP funding, instead dismissing the funding as unnecessary money for “runway repairs and noise mitigation.”

    Truth: The plan of which airports get funding in what order is primarily determined by the National Integrated System of Airports, which ranks these airports in order of the greatest need of safety enhancements, capacity and access.

    3) USA Today attempts to make the case that bigger airports are losing out on money that is unfairly going to smaller airports.

    Truth: Large airports are eligible to receive large allotments of funding through the Passenger Facility Charges whereas smaller airports rely on the Airport Improvement Program – a federal program that provides airports with funding necessary to make critical safety improvements. As such, there is a limit on the amount of AIP funding that larger airports that receive PFC funds, can accept. Moreover, large airports receive a great deal more funding through their designated funding source – PFCs – whereas the AIP program funds BOTH small and larger airports. According to AOPA, in 2007, general aviation airports receiving money received an average of $750,000 for improvements while commercial air carrier airports that received funding got an average of $5.5 million each–more than seven times the amount awarded to smaller fields.

    4) USA Today completely neglects to mention that one of the key ways that commercial airlines often break into new markets is through the use of these small airports.

    Truth: The fact is that the airlines benefit from the existence and improvement of small airports. Airports in Chicago and Bedford, MA are examples of airports that once served only general aviation aircraft, and once the commercial airlines decided that they would move into these airports, the general aviation presence diminished.

    5) In support of their story, USA Today deliberately misleads the reader through the interactive map on their website which juxtaposes the total flights that go through the airport in a given year with the total amount of funding received over 28 years.

    Truth: The USA Today story grossly distorts the truth by counting all monies spent over the life of entire program against only one year of airport operations. For example, USA Today highlights that Joslin Field-Magic Valley Regional Airport in Twin Falls, Idaho has 39,192 flights per year – a figure that USA Today argues is too low given the funding that the airport receives. Yet, USA Today only discusses funding received over a span of 28 years – that apples to oranges comparison is completely misleading, and cannot be accidental.

    6) Perhaps most importantly, by attempting to make the case that this is an unfair subsidy of smaller airports, USA Today’s article completely discounts the importance of these local economies, and frankly, of most of rural America.

    Truth: This network of airports is not only crucial for search and rescue, law enforcement, medical care, pilot training, and many other purposes, but it is a crucial segment of our economy, driving over 1.2 million jobs and $150 billion annually. That is why public officials in the attached one pager recognize this industry – and all the organizations and businesses that depend on it – as a crucial driver to our economy, and over 70 Mayors recently came together to highlight the importance of this industry to America.