Airport Financing:

Annual Funding As Much As $3 Billion Less Than Planned Development

T-RCED-99-84: Published: Feb 10, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed airport funding issues, focusing on: (1) the amount airports are spending on capital development and the sources of those funds; (2) comparing airports' plans for development with current funding levels; and (3) what effect will various proposals to increase or make better use of existing funding have on airports' ability to fulfill their capital development plans.

GAO noted that: (1) 3,304 airports that make up the federally supported national airport system obtained about $7 billion from federal and private sources for capital development; (2) more than 90 percent of this funding came from three sources: tax-exempt bonds issued by states and local airport authorities, federal grants from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP), and passenger facility charges paid on airline tickets; (3) the magnitude and type of funding varies with airports' size; (4) the nation's 71 largest airports accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total funding; (5) airports planned to spend as much as $10 billion per year for capital development for the years 1997 through 2001, or $3 billion per year more than they were able to fund in 1996; (6) the difference between funding and the costs of planned development is greater for smaller commercial and general aviation airports than for their larger counterparts; (7) smaller airports' funding would cover only about half the costs of their planned development, while larger airports' funding would cover about 4/5 of their planned development; (8) airports' planned development can be divided into four main categories based on the funding priorities of AIP; (9) about $1.4 billion per year was planned for safety, security, environmental, and reconstruction projects, FAA's highest priorities for AIP funding; (10) another $1.4 billion per year was planned for projects FAA regards as the next highest priority, primarily adding airport capacity; (11) other projects FAA considers to be lower in priority, such as bringing airports up to FAA's design standards, add another $3.3 billion per year; (12) airports anticipated spending another $3.9 billion per year on projects that are not eligible for AIP funding, such as expanding commercial space in terminals and constructing parking garages; (13) several proposals to increase or make better use of existing funding have emerged in recent years, including the amount of AIP funding and raising the maximum amount airports can levy in passenger facility charges; (14) under current formulas, increasing the amount of AIP funding would help small airports more than larger airports, while raising passenger facility charges would help larger airports more; and (15) other initiatives, such as AIP block grants to states, have had varied success, but none appears to offer a major breakthrough in reducing the shortfall between funding and airports' plans for development.