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Highlights

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that the national airspace system will become increasingly congested over time, imposing costs of delay on passengers and regions. While transforming the current air-traffic control system to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) may provide additional en route capacity, many airports will still face constraints at their runways and terminals. In light of these forecasts, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to evaluate regional airport planning in metropolitan regions with congested airports. GAO (1) identified which airports are currently or will be significantly congested and the potential benefits of regional airport planning, (2) assessed how regions with congested airports use regional airport planning in decision making, and (3) identified factors that hinder or aid in the development and implementation of regional airport plans. GAO reviewed studies; interviewed FAA, airport, and other aviation and transportation officials; and conducted case studies in selected regions.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To ensure that federal AIP funds are employed to their maximum benefit and to improve the level of regional- and airport-level coordination, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FAA to develop an FAA review process for regional airport system plans to ensure that they meet FAA standards and airport system planning guidance as well as provide technical support for regional planners undertaking such planning.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

In 2009, we reported that 14 airports are significantly capacity constrained and that by 2025, if no improvements are made, another 13 airports would also be significantly constrained. We found that FAA had provided $20 million in regional planning grants to airports in nine of the ten metropolitan areas with at least one airport forecast to be severely congested. However, we found that FAA does not formally review these regional airport system plans and only use them selectively in making investment decisions. We recommended that the FAA should develop a review process for regional airport system plans to ensure that they meet FAA standards and airport system planning guidance as well as provide technical support for regional planners undertaking such planning. On July 21, 2014, FAA issued a revised draft System Planning Advisory Circular (150/5070-7) that, among other things, includes a system plan checklist for reviewing the plans and identifies key elements that the plan must contain to check its consistency with regional airport plans. Also, the circular specifically cites our report as the reason for the checklist. As result of implementing the checklist, FAA will enhance its confidence that the plans are of sufficient quality to guide decision making.
Department of Transportation To ensure that federal AIP funds are employed to their maximum benefit and to improve the level of regional- and airport-level coordination, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FAA to use its existing statutory authority to give priority to funding airport projects that are consistent with RASPs.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

In 2009, we reported that 14 airports are significantly capacity constrained and that by 2025, if no improvements are made, another 13 airports would also be significantly constrained. We found that FAA had provided $20 million in regional planning grants to airports in nine of the ten metropolitan areas with at least one airport forecast to be severely congested. However, we found that FAA does not formally review these regional airport system plans and only use them selectively in making investment decisions. We recommended that to ensure that federal AIP funds are employed to their maximum benefit and to improve the level of regional- and airport-level coordination, FAA use its existing statutory authority to give priority to funding airport projects that are consistent with regional airport plans. In response, FAA updated its guidance in 2014 to include regional airport system plans as a required element for runway capacity projects. As a result, FAA will have to consider the plans' recommendations before making capacity investments in the future. Doing so will help better prioritize investments of federal grants.

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