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Highlights

Between 1970 and 1980, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) invested about $760 million to construct and improve runways at over 1700 of the Nation's smaller airports. As a condition for receiving Federal aid, the airport owners, usually local governments, agreed to properly maintain the airports. GAO is conducting an ongoing review of the adequacy of the maintenance of small airport runways which were developed under the program. GAO found that critical runway pavement maintenance has been deferred in most instances for several years at 72 percent of the airports visited. GAO found no significant differences among FAA regions or type of airport. Although poorly maintained runways can be a safety hazard, none of the runways with deferred maintenance were considered unsafe by the inspectors. However, the useful life of the runways inspected could be shortened by an average of 6 years unless they are repaired. In addition, deferring maintenance could result in serious damage to the basic runway structure, thus increasing rehabilitation costs. Much of these increased costs could be borne by the Federal Government if the runways involved are rehabilitated under a future airport development aid program. Airport representatives cited a shortage of funds as the most frequent reason for the lack of maintenance. The FAA failure to effectively monitor airport maintenance and to accurately assess airport pavement conditions also contributed to deferred maintenance. FAA inspectors do not report poor maintenance conditions, because finding a sponsor in noncompliance with grant obligations could ultimately lead to taking administrative or judicial actions against the sponsors. FAA prefers to obtain voluntary compliance with grant agreements. GAO believes that FAA may have to use administrative or judicial actions to obtain compliance. FAA is developing, and plans to distribute, an advisory circular on airport pavement maintenance. In addition, FAA plans to train airport sponsors in its use. In structuring a new airport development aid program, Congress may want to require airport sponsors to provide greater assurances that funds for maintenance will be available and provided when needed or to provide financial aid for maintenance at small airports.

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