Airport Improvement Program:

Reliever Airport Set-Aside Funds Could Be Redirected

RCED-94-226: Published: Jun 30, 1994. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP), focusing on whether the relievers set-aside project: (1) reduces congestion at commercial airports by improving reliever airports; and (2) provides general aviation with additional access to airports.

GAO found that: (1) FAA does not consider general aviation to be a significant factor in congestion at commercial airports; (2) the 38-percent decrease in general aviation traffic from 1983 to 1991 can be attributed to an overall decline in general aviation activity, not the presence of reliever airports; (3) FAA often considers general aviation access excessive in areas where relievers are located; (4) diminishing general aviation traffic has resulted in competition among airports for the same general aviation users; (5) although FAA does not know whether reliever funding has actually reduced congestion or improved access, it plans to continue to designate 5 percent of all AIP funds for reliever projects; (6) FAA could reduce the number of airports designated as relievers so that only those that currently have the facilities to accommodate large general aviation aircraft would be included in the set-aside; and (7) FAA could eliminate the designation of AIP funds altogether and have current reliever airports compete with all other general aviation airports for general aviation development funds.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The 104th Congress eliminated the reliever set-aside program in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 1996, and redirected the reliever set-aside percentage to the States/Insular Areas portion of the new AIP distribution formula.

    Matter: To ensure that AIP project funds are directed at the most important needs in the nation's air transportation system, Congress may wish to consider reducing the number of eligible reliever airports or further reducing the set-aside for reliever airports upon receipt of information from FAA regarding the need for such airports. If it chooses to further downsize the program, Congress would need to specify the percentage of AIP funds to be set aside for relievers and redirect any remaining portion of the set-aside for other purposes. Likewise, if it chooses to eliminate the program, Congress would need to specify how the current set-aside is to be redirected.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 1998, FAA submitted a draft report to GAO describing changes to the reliever criteria and requesting GAO's comments/concurrence. While FAA changed the reliever criteria, the report did not address GAO's recommendations to determine when relievers could provide relief to congested airports or how much general aviation access is required nationwide and for metropolitan areas that have commercial airports.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA ability to determine the use of reliever set-aside funds, the Administrator, FAA, should develop and formalize criteria to determine: (1) when reliever airports could provide relief from congestion caused by general aviation traffic; and (2) how much general aviation access is required nationwide and for metropolitan areas that have commercial airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 1998, FAA submitted a draft report to GAO describing changes to the reliever criteria and requesting GAO's comments/concurrence. While FAA changed the reliever Criteria, the report did not address GAO's recommendations on whether the current number of relievers, in combination with other general aviation airports, is appropriate for serving the current and future general aviation traffic. In January 1999, the Manager of the Airports Financial Assistance Division confirmed that the issue would not be revisited.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA ability to determine the use of reliever set-aside funds, the Administrator, FAA, should develop and analyze data to determine whether the current number of relievers, in combination with other general aviation airports, is appropriate for serving the current and future general aviation traffic.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 1998, FAA submitted a draft report to GAO describing changes to the reliever criteria and requesting GAO's comments/concurrence. While FAA changed the reliever Criteria, the report did not use this newly developed criteria to address GAO's recommendation to use the newly developed criteria and data to validate future development needs at reliever and general aviation airports.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA ability to determine the use of reliever set-aside funds, the Administrator, FAA, should use the newly developed criteria and data to validate future development needs at reliever and general aviation airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

 

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