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Taking Flight: Good Plans for Great City Airports

By Bob Cohrs

Stencil-like graphic of an airplaneLocal general aviation airports are increasing their role as catalysts that help Minnesota communities attract and retain local businesses, support job growth, provide increases in the local tax base, and spur the local economy. City airport owners need a plan for their airport that supports and complements community growth, and identifies a proper sequence for future airport projects.

Proper airport planning
Airport master plans, airport layout plans (ALP), and capital improvement plans (CIP) are integral components that help airport owners develop a blueprint for proper maintenance and growth of their airport. In addition, properly prepared airport plans help provide the necessary project justification and details to secure environmental approval and funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The master plan represents the airport’s vision and long-term plan for future development, and establishes the framework for a continuous planning and implementation process. It shows existing airport features, future development, and anticipated land use. In addition, it includes a schedule and financial plan to support future airport development projects, while satisfying regulations. An ALP is an integral part of the master plan because it includes the graphical design details about the development of the airport. The ALP represents an understanding between the airport owner and the FAA regarding how the airport will develop.

The CIP is also an important part of the master planning process because it provides a detailed year-by-year implementation plan for the airport that includes corresponding project costs and funding sources. You’ll want to review the airport CIP annually to properly prioritize projects and maximize funding opportunities. Airport project priorities should be communicated to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the FAA, so the appropriate approvals and funding submittals can be prepared on a timely basis.

Planning in action
The City of Jackson (population 3,200), for example, is now working with consultants to plan for updates to the Jackson Municipal Airport. City leaders are in the process of developing a master plan for future airport improvements.

This planning was prompted by the recent expansion of the AGCO—a local farm equipment manufacturing and distribution business. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 individuals will tour the AGCO visitor center each year, many of whom will fly into and out of the Jackson Municipal Airport. With that kind of boost to the economy, Jackson officials want to do all they can to provide support.

The master plan will put the Jackson Municipal Airport in a more favorable position to receive timely project approvals, capitalize on available funding sources, move seamlessly forward with the expansion of the airport, and help support and complement the growth of the Jackson community.

Federal funding
The FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) is a grant-in-aid program that is a major source of funding for airport development and planning. Airport projects that are eligible for AIP funding include improvements that enhance airport safety, capacity, security, and those that address environmental concerns.

Airport owners may use AIP funds for planning and environmental projects, airfield capital improvements, land acquisitions, and acquisition of approved safety and snow removal equipment. However, the AIP does not reimburse airport owners for the full amount of a project expense.

AIP participation rates
According to the most recent FAA AIP Sponsor Guide; the following AIP participation rates apply:

  • Primary airport—large and medium hub
    The federal share is 75 percent of project expenses. Exception: noise program implementation is 80 percent federal participation.
  • Small primary, non-primary, relievers, and general aviation airports
    The federal share is 90 percent of project costs. Exception: airports currently receiving Essential Air Service in economically distressed areas have a 95 percent federal participation.

Because the demand almost always exceeds the availability of AIP funds, the FAA bases the distribution of these funds according to national priorities. Each year, the FAA divides the AIP funds into entitlement categories such as primary, non-primary, and state apportionment funds. The FAA distributes the remaining money into a discretionary fund. Set-aside projects for airport noise and military airports receive priority for this distribution. Any remaining funds are distributed by the FAA with highest priority given to safety, security, reconstruction, capacity, and standards-related projects. MC

Bob Cohrs is principal and aviation planner with SEH Inc. (www.sehinc.com). SEH is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).

Read the November-December 2013 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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