General Aviation Airports:

Oversight and Funding

T-RCED-99-214: Published: Jun 9, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 1999.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oversight of and the funding for capital development at general aviation airports, focusing on: (1) the adequacy of FAA's oversight and enforcement of general aviation airports' compliance with federal requirements related to the use of their land; and (2) how general aviation airports' planned capital development costs compare with funding levels.

GAO noted that: (1) all FAA field offices rely primarily on third-party complaints to identify airports' noncompliance with allowable uses; (2) only 4 of FAA's 23 field offices monitor general aviation airports to ensure that they comply with federal requirements to use airport land only for airport purposes; (3) to do this, these four field offices rely on the airports' self-certifications that they are in compliance; (4) relying on airports' self-certifications and third-party complaints is not sufficient; (5) without monitoring, airports' unauthorized use of land has gone uncorrected--in some cases for over a decade; (6) for example, airport land has been inappropriately used for mobile home parks, little league baseball fields, dog pounds, duck-hunting blinds, and city police, fire, and vehicle maintenance facilities; (7) unauthorized land use has resulted in the loss or diversion of millions of dollars in airport revenues from general aviation airports, which are typically owned by local governments; (8) in some cases, increased risks to aviation safety also resulted; (9) for example, FAA determined that birds attracted by an unauthorized landfill on an airport posed a possible danger to aircraft; (10) if and when FAA becomes aware that an airport is not complying, it has a variety of statutory and administrative alternatives; (11) however, FAA has generally chosen not to use them, preferring to address noncompliance through negotiation and settlement, an approach that has not always been effective in resolving airports' noncompliance; (12) GAO reported that the $10 billion in annual planned capital development for all the nation's airports that are eligible for federal funding exceeded their 1996 funding by $3 billion; (13) for general aviation airports, which depend more heavily on federal grants for their capital development than commercial airports, the proportional shortfall is even greater; (14) GAO reported that general aviation airports' annual planned development of nearly $1.5 billion was more than twice as much as their 1996 funding; and (15) while federal grants for airports, including general aviation, increased in 1998, federal funding for general aviation capital development still represents only about 35 percent of these airports' planned capital development that is eligible for federal funding.