Iowans Support Their Small Airports

By Scott Spangler on June 12th, 2009

On June 4 the Des Moines Register published an article whose headline said “Tiny Iowa Airports Take Off With Millions in FAA Grants.” To be honest, it’s what you’d expect from a newspaper and reporter whose aviation experience doesn’t extend much past his last airline flight.

JetWhine_IA_Airports The gist of this “analysis” is this: “Airports across the state have received more than $76.6 million in airport improvement grants since 2007 — about 42 percent of which has gone to small airports without commercial airline service that process fewer than 50 takeoffs and landings per day….”

With clearly no clue about the aviation trust fund, who pays into it, and how the airport improvement program works, this analysis comes “at a time when Congress is debating whether the tax structure that funds most Federal Aviation Administration programs should be changed to shift more of the burden to owners and operators of small aircraft.”

To keep the story “objective,” the reporter notes an upcoming Iowa DOT report that says the states’s GA airports feed $187 million to the states economy, and quotes NBAA’s Ed Bolen, who said, “If all the business flying in the United States went away, you would still need these airports.” And then the reporter got back to his main point:

“How much public money should be used to support infrastructure that much of the general public does not use?” and “Critics, including the airline industry, have argued that commercial passengers have paid billions for upgrades to small airports that they will probably never patronize.”

Like I said, pretty much what you’d expect from a newspaper and reporter with no real aviation knowledge. No surprises here. The surprise came in the online comments submitted by readers–55 of them in one day, and only about a dozen of them from aviators! The rest came from citizens whose words reveal no aviation connection.

There were maybe a half dozen comments in support of the article, until the other readers set the story straight by explaining how the aviation trust fund and AIP work, turning critics into small airport supporters. And one commenter had an unusual–and accurate–point in support of GA airports: “The small town airports do have appeal. NO crowds, no crabby ticket agents. I think we need to have the small airports.”

And we will, because such online conversations such as this one let everyone get in the discussion, creating a louder, more diverse voice in fighting for the future of general aviation. — Scott Spangler


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4 Responses to “Iowans Support Their Small Airports”

  1. John Says:


    Thanks for featuring this article. Iowa has a very unique community, and a fairly active aviation presence. I must admit that I missed this article, but it is good to see the discussions taking place. Thanks for sharing


  2. DisgruntledFlyer Says:

    So, let’s be clear… your argument is that the expenditures on GA airports are entirely offset by tax revenue from GA owners / operators?

    Sounds like what-you-pay-is-what-you-get (WYPIWYG, wippy-wig?)… so why the hubbub about user fees?

  3. Scott Says:

    Acutally, I’m not making an argument one way or another. Airports–big ones and little ones–benefit many more Americans beyond the passengers and pilots that are they most visible users. Right now airport improvements are funded by money from fuel and passenger taxes, a small contribution from the general tax fund, and a contribution from the state. This seems to be the most most efficient way for indirect beneficiaries to contribute to their maintenance and improvements.

    User fees are another way to fund this, but given that the government is all about the bureaucracy, how high will the fees have to be to pay all of the papershufflers who will administer it. Equally important, how will the indrect users, from people who ship and receive overnight packages to life flights, make their contributions?

    There’s no denying that we all get what we pay for, and the question is who shall pay, and who shall benefit? What concerns me most is American’s growing short-sightedness. Our infrastructure is crumbling due to neglect, and when it comes to airports, an unequitiable funding structure will only exacerbate this problem.

    The final question relating to direct participation taxation or user fees is this: What will happen to airports we all benefit from when, because of unfair taxation or fees, there are insufficient direct users to charge?

  4. Scott Olson Says:


    With a name like Scott you can’t be all bad. I wanted to thank you for your message on Jetwhine about Iowa airports receiving FAA funds. The Des Moines news papers should have someone on staff that can review general aviation news content. I am President of EAA Chapter 1452 and will pass your words on to our Iowa members.
    Scott Olson, The Online Barnstormer

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