Airfield Pavement:

Keeping Nation's Runways in Good Condition Could Require Substantially Higher Spending

RCED-98-226: Published: Jul 31, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on runway conditions at national system airports and cost estimates for maintaining and rehabilitating these runways over the next 10 years, focusing on the: (1) current condition of the nation's airport runways; (2) likely cost of rehabilitation and preventive maintenance for these runways over the next 10 years; (3) Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) basis for setting priorities among requests for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for runway rehabilitation and maintenance; and (4) results of the demonstration project authorized by Congress in 1996 to address concerns that a lack of funding was hampering runway maintenance at small airports.

GAO noted that: (1) most runway pavement is currently in generally good condition; (2) about three-fourths of the runways included in GAO's database on pavement condition were rated good to excellent, while one-fourth were rated fair to poor; (3) a statistical model predicted that most of the runways not in GAO's database were also in good to excellent condition; (4) however, in the next 10 years, many airports in GAO's database will face substantial work keeping runways in generally good condition; (5) FAA and pavement experts believe that the most economical way to lengthen pavement life at many airports is to rehabilitate runways when they are still in good condition; (6) waiting often increases costs because more expensive methods must be used; (7) the cost of keeping runways in generally good condition over the next 10 years will be beyond the average $162 million historically spent in the AIP for this purpose each year; (8) for the 35 percent of national system airports in its database, GAO estimated future costs in two ways; (9) assuming that airports could fund projects before runway pavement deterioration accelerated to the point at which more expensive approaches would have to be used, an estimated $1.38 billion would be needed at these airports over the next 10 years; (10) these airports could then choose a less expensive rehabilitation option, rather than a more costly reconstruction method; (11) assuming that these airports would have about $162 million per year in federal funds to spend, they would face an unmet need of $2.37 billion after 10 years, a higher amount than under the first estimate; (12) FAA's system for setting priorities among grant applications gives runway rehabilitation projects higher priority than most other projects; (13) however, FAA does not have an accurate, consistent source of information about detailed runway conditions at all airports in the national system to consider during this process; (14) for fiscal year (FY) 1997 and FY 1998, the states and local airport authorities have shown limited interest in participating in the pilot program authorized by Congress for pavement maintenance grants at nonprimary airports; (15) in FY 1997, FAA received expressions of interest from 14 airport owners and states that provide assistance to airports within their borders and awarded grants to 1 airport owner and 3 states; (16) six candidates expressed interest in participating in the second year of the program; and (17) a GAO survey of state aviation departments revealed no dominant reason for the limited amount of interest.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurs with this recommendation. In accordance with law, since January 1, 1995, FAA has required assurances from airports seeking AIP funds to rehabilitate or reconstruct pavement that they have an effective pavement maintenance management program. During FY1999, FAA requested information generated by these programs from a representative cross section of airports. The FAA evaluated these data in conjunction with the GAO's suggested options. FAA found that the accuracy and repeatability of the data collected in the survey could be improved through better training. Given this data and GAO's recommendation, FAA plans to provide improved guidance on rating pavements under the Airport Safety Data Program (5010) program. This guidance will be furnished to the National Association of State Aviation Officials to be included in its written instructions and in its training classes. However, FAA doubts the information collected during these surveys could ever be used in a pavement management system.

    Recommendation: To enable FAA to make the most cost-effective decisions when awarding AIP grants for runway rehabilitation projects, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to evaluate options for improving the quality of information on airfield pavement conditions for national system airports. These options include, but are not limited to, improving the existing runway condition information contained in the Airport Safety Data Program by reviewing and revising rating criteria, and providing adequate training for inspectors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurs with this recommendation. In accordance with law, since January 1, 1995, FAA has required assurances from airports seeking AIP funds to rehabilitate or reconstruct pavement that they have an effective pavement maintenance management program. During FY1999, FAA requested information generated by these programs from a representative cross section of airports. FAA evaluated these data in conjunction with the GAO's suggested options and concluded that while this option does not provide pavement condition index (PCI) data or comparable information for all airports, it would provide improved information for decisionmaking. As a result, FAA will strongly encourage the inclusion of PCI data, or comparable information, in airport master plans and encourage states to include such data in their state system plans. FAA will also require the inclusion of PCI data, or comparable information, to support grant applications for discretionary funds for pavement projects.

    Recommendation: To enable FAA to make the most cost-effective decisions when awarding AIP grants for runway rehabilitation projects, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to evaluate options for improving the quality of information on airfield pavement conditions for national system airports. These options include, but are not limited to, requiring airports to submit pavement condition index (PCI) information as part of their airport master plan or as support in applications for relevant discretionary AIP grants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although FAA did not concur with this recommendation, Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 106-513, Section 160) which directed FAA to evaluate GAO's three options and within 12 months of the date of enactment of this Act, transmit a report evaluating the options to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

    Recommendation: To enable FAA to make the most cost-effective decisions when awarding AIP grants for runway rehabilitation projects, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to evaluate options for improving the quality of information on airfield pavement conditions for national system airports. These options include, but are not limited to, requiring all airports in the national airport system to submit PCI information on a regular basis and using this information to create a pavement condition database that could be used in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of project applications and forecasting anticipated pavement needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has reviewed the need for a separate pilot for airfield pavement maintenance and concluded that it was not needed because few airports participated in the pilot and routine pavement maintenance could be covered under the basic AIP if legislation was passed to make it eligible. The President's FY2000 budget requested a repeal of the pilot pavement maintenance program.

    Recommendation: Because of the limited interest expressed to date in the pilot program for pavement maintenance, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to review the need for a separate pilot for airfield pavement maintenance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA stated that a change in legislation would be required to fund standalone crack-sealing projects under AIP and believes that this would be an effective method of extending pavement life. The President's FY2000 budget requested that routine work be eligible for federal funds. Such routine work includes standalone crack-sealing to preserve and extend the useful life of runways, taxiways, and aprons at airports for which apportionments are made under section 4714(d) under guidelines issued by the administration.

    Recommendation: To accommodate applicants interested in using AIP funds for stand-alone crack-sealing projects, the Administrator, FAA, should determine if it would be necessary to seek legislation before adding stand-alone crack-sealing projects to the regular list of eligible projects for the AIP.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

 

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