Originally created 03/10/01

Small airports look for funding



Those heading up Georgia's smallest airports say they are contributing to the state coffers but rarely seeing any of the money coming back.

"The jet fuel tax alone adds $25 million dollars into the state treasury," said Will Wingate, a lobbyist for the state's airport system.

Unlike many other states, Georgia does not funnel money from the fuel tax or other aviation-related taxes back to the state's airports for improvements.

Instead, the state's 102 public airports that receive money from the Legislature get it from the general fund - an allocation of $3.8 million this year.

In comparison, Florida, which also has 102 airports, sets the gold standard in the Southeast by supplying $87 million a year. Even though Georgia's neighbors have fewer airports to support, most of the states spend at least double the amount Georgia does.

"The only state that is under us is South Carolina," said Dan Coe, president of the Georgia Airport Association and assistant director of the Savannah International Airport.

Nationally, Georgia ranks 31st when looking at state spending, according to a survey from the association.

Georgia's eight airports that offer commercial airline service, including Augusta Regional Airport, receive some state money but depend mostly on federal funding, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport does not receive any money from the state Legislature.

But the state's 94 general aviation airports, including Daniel Field Airport, have traditionally relied heavily on state funding for improvement projects.

Daniel Field officials are banking on the state to provide money so the airport can seal cracks on its taxiways and ramps.

Although the $45,000 project is listed on Daniel Field's schedule of capital improvement projects for next year, Airport Director Buster Boshears said there was no guarantee that the money actually will be there.

Unlike many other states, the Legislature does not set aside an annual amount for airport aid, instead drawing year to year from the government's general fund.

"We don't know yet whether or not we'll get that," Mr. Boshears said. "There is no automatic money except the AIR-21 money."

The Aviation and Investment Reform Act, or AIR-21, was enacted by Congress last year to provide a boost for airports such as Daniel Field by handing out $150,000 during each of the next three years and mandating that states match 5 percent of the money.

With this federal money, Daniel Field officials drew up a wish list of runway and lighting improvements - improvements that might not have been possible without the legislation, Mr. Boshears said.

He said there were several airports in the state that are in much worse shape than Daniel Field and in more desperate need of increased state support.

"If you go to airports like at Thomson, they have a small building to act as a terminal building, but it's not up to any kind of standard that you would like to have," he said. "If you go down to Wrens there's no terminal facility at all."

Members of the Georgia Airport Association say they are trying to get the General Assembly to set aside $12.5 million annually for such improvements so general aviation airports will not have to fight for state general fund money each year.

"We're competing for school dollars; we're competing for health care dollars," Mr. Wingate said. "Now, there's no money that's earmarked for the airport fund."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.