Analysis: Billions goes to ‘low priority’ airport projects

More than 3,100 airport construction and rehabilitation projects received nearly $2 billion in funding between 2005 and 2009, even though they didn’t meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s criteria, according to Subsidyscope, an initiative of the Pew Economic Policy Group.

The money was given in the form of grants under the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The grants, which are primarily funded through ticket and fuel surcharges, have a number of purposes, including improving safety. The AIP funding is supposed to be reserved for projects ranking higher in the National Priority Ratings.

“With expenditures running into the billions, these findings show the benefit of making spending data more accessible. The public deserves to know the criteria used for determining how and when to spend taxpayer dollars,” Marcus Peacock, director of Subsidyscope, said in a news release. “So far, these data raise more questions than they answer.”

The study found that 27 percent of the $1 billion in federal stimulus AIP grants awarded between March 16 and Sept. 18 went to 90 total projects that did not meet the criteria for funding.

For stimulus grants, “we raised the bar from what it would normally be,” the Wall Street Journal quoted an FAA spokeswoman as saying. “Just because something came in under (the threshold) doesn’t mean it’s disqualified.”

According to the Subsidyscope, the three airports with the highest AIP funding per paying passenger:

  • Fall River Mills Airport, Calif., $271,825
  • Cecil Field, Fla., $270,063
  • Marana Regional, Ariz., $235,306
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