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Aviation trade groups blast USA Today article on small airports

Aviation trade groups have their ire up with a USA Today story entitled “Feds keep little-used airports in business” and a NBC “Today” show companion story that ran on MSNBC cable news.

The trade groups call the story “biased and distorted,” “devoid of journalistic balance” and one that took “a gratuitous and uninformed slap at general aviation.”

The story focuses on spending at general aviation airports, saying that airline ticket tax income fund airports around the country, some of which are little used. In an accounting, USA said it found that Congress has directed $15 billion over 28 years to general aviation airports, “which typically are tucked on country roads and industrial byways.”

What the story doesn’t point out, however, is that general aviation operators contribute to the same trust fund through fuel taxes or that the also fund also pays for the air traffic control system, a system that primarily benefits the airlines, said the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Community airports serve a vital role for towns with little or no airline service, said the National Business Aviation Association. They provide lifelines for small to midsize businesses, schools, universities and other organizations. They stimulate economic development and are essential for air transportation for the postal service, firefighting, disaster relief, medical evacuations, law enforcement, homeland security, patient and organ transports and other services.

“Congress has long recognized that the upkeep of a national system of airports is an established national priority,” NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said in a letter to the editor of USA Today.

AOPA also says that :

In 2007, a fairly typical year for Airport Improvement Program funding:

* The FAA distributed $3.34 billion in funds to 2,610 airports.

* Of that, 341 primary airports — airports with more than 100,000 boardings each year — received $2.1 billion of the funds. That’s an average of $6.17 million per airport.

* Overall, the 389 airline airports shared $2.2 billion, averaging $5.5 million per airport. By comparison, 1,121 general aviation that year shared $832 million, averaging $742,000 each.

* Another $310 million was distributed through state block grant programs.