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The proposal to tweak the Essential Air Service subsidy would affect 13 regional airports including this one: Athens-Ben Epps Airport in Georgia. Photo: Athens-Ben Epps Airport

While the federal government ended a stalemate over funding the nation's air transportation system, impending budget gaps still could affect 13 airports.

A two-week shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration this summer ended when Congress temporarily reauthorized the agency's funding. The extension, however, didn't address a proposal to tweak the Essential Air Service subsidy for underserved areas of the country. While losing federal support would hurt, the subsequent decline in the number of passengers and pilots choosing to use a municipal airport would be worse because most of their funding comes from ticket sales and aircraft users' fees.

“Debate over the subsidy always causes passengers to reconsider booking out of our airport,” says Thomas Frungillo, director of Bradford Regional Airport in Lewis Run, Pa. That's why, he says, Congressional discourse over the need for municipal airports ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“The biggest impact is the reduction of airport user fees, because fewer aircraft are flying as a direct result of the slow economy,” says Tim Beggerly, director of Athens-Ben Epps Airport in Georgia.

“The shutdown had consequences for airports both large and small,” says Jane Calderwood, vice president of government and political affairs for the advocacy group Airports Council International. “As a key driver of their community's economic engine, airports can't afford to be left without access to funding or the approval process again.”

The recent shutdown cost an estimated $400 million in lost jobs, time wasted when airports were forced to rebid projects, and delays in safety and security projects. Calderwood hopes Congress learned a lesson and will finally fully reauthorize the FAA after extending the agency's funding 21 times.

“We can't afford to let Congress leave the national air system in limbo any longer,” she says.

WEB EXTRA

For examples of projects affected by the recent Federal Aviation Administration shutdown, look for the “Web extras” logo on www.pwmag.com.