CARES Airport Grants Vary Widely


Municipal officials all over the country are comparing notes and discovering major disparities in the government aid they’re getting through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The issue first cropped up in Colorado where Northern Colorado Regional Airport, a GA facility serving Fort Collins and Loveland, got a whopping $16.9 million for a facility with an annual operating budget of $1.2 million. GA airports in Crested Butte and Hayden got more than $18 million. Meanwhile Centennial Airport near Denver, the state’s second busiest airport, and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, the fourth busiest, got just $157,000. “A $17 million discrepancy, that’s extensive,” Rocky Mountain Metropolitan CEO Paul Anslow said. “I’m interested in how that occurred and where do we get ours.”

The FAA is acknowledging some of the grants are anomalous but said it built in a cap for the places that get the big windfalls. “When using any large dataset and formula, an anomaly might occur, so the FAA prepared for that possibility. In cases where an airport’s allocation would provide more than four years’ worth of operating expenses, the FAA will cap the initial grant amount at that level,” the agency said in a statement. “If an airport can demonstrate that it can use more of the allocated amount within the four-year time frame, the airport sponsors may work directly with the appropriate Airports District Office.” Congress mandated a complex set of financial criteria for communities applying for the grants and those formulas created the winners and losers.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. There are tens of thousands of small business owners who would gladly give back $10MM in exchange for four years worth of operating expenses! Mind you, these are grants not loans. So what does the average taxpayer think when they drive past the local airport now?

  2. The average taxpayer could care less about virtually GA airport, and is basically ignorant of how their local airport is funded. Even most city commissioners look at the local airport as an albatross not as an asset.

    Most airport commissions/authorities operate independent of the city commissions, because most city/township. small towns do not want to take the time and learning curve to understand, let alone operate the local airport. Local city officials are not interested nor want to take the time, effort, and advance planning that is required applying for Airport Improvement Program grant money. As a result, airport authorities/commissions are made up of a few local volunteers who sit on an airport board because it adds another position identifying their public service history. Many would not know the difference between a prop spinner and a tail cone. They defer any decision making usually to a couple of local pilots/aircraft owners.

    Essentially, AIP grants thru which airport improvements are made are done by a single mover and shaker or ignored all together. Very few airports have paid managers. Occasionally at a regional airport, a paid airport manager is participating doing what is necessary to get paperwork in and organizing all the requirements.

    Most AIP grant monies are working thru a five year window. But very few if anybody is checking nor could care less at the importance of it and its purpose. Many airports forfeit grant monies because no one within the city commission or local airport authority know that it is available, how to get it or what to do with it. So, when you have an occasional astute , engaged, knowledgeable, with a long term goal for the benefit of the airport doing the very arduous planning, filing the necessary paperwork, and doing all the followup, significant money can be gotten and improvements happen.

    Most local airports just run on autopilot ( no pun intended) being managed by few who fly or care about “little airplanes”, and generally slowly deteriorate over time. Sometimes a new aircraft owner/pilot gets involved, or a local EAA chapter pushes on the local political stick, and something gets done. However, my experience has been that within the local airport, airport improvement grants concentrate a lot of potential power, placed in an occasional very few hands, with most communities clueless on what is actually going on. As long as there are no crashes, most people don’t even know they have an airport. And for those that do know about the airport, it is for rich, country club set few, who happen to own private aircraft adding more disengagement from day to day operations

    The FAA only steps in, if during an occasional operational check, finds that the airport is now out of compliance in some form or fashion. They end up notifying the local city of the violation. Sometimes the local aircraft owners want some improvement and contact the FAA. Unless the local aircraft owners and local pilot community is engaged, attends the local airport authority meetings, and actually see who is running the airport, not much gets done and grant monies are forfeited.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease. With an active airport authority, run by knowledgeable, aviation savvy, active local citizens, who see the local airport as an asset rather than a liability, grant money, provided by our avgas taxes, is available each year. And with CARE grant monies out there being handed out by an equally GA aviation disengaged federal government, you can see how far off the scales this program can get.

    I have no idea how CARE money is allocated. But it looks like…If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

    • Well I’m sure this is another situation where who you know is the most important consideration for getting such a windfall.

    • Jim,

      You are absolutely right about average citizens having little interest in how the local airport is financed. At our municipal airport local pilots and the alphabet groups occasionally campaign for AIP money, but the strongest voices in our community are real estate developers. CARES mismanagement gives them another opportunity to show the public how GA takes advantage of taxpayers.