Aug. 28, 2020

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for airports, airport safety inspections, financial accountability and the current state of FAA manpower were the focus of the Aug. 25 virtual session of the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (NEC AAAE) Annual Conference.

NBAA Director of Airports and Ground Infrastructure Alex Gertsen moderated the discussion with the FAA Associate Administrator for Airports D. Kirk Shaffer.

With flight activity decimated by the pandemic, Shaffer stressed that additional funding to the CARES Act was critical to airports’ survival. “Passenger throughput is down 97% year-over-year. Aircraft-in-the-air numbers are down 67%,” he said, adding that the next round could be as high as $15 billion, but that it could be as low as $10 billion, the same amount as the original funding, which he sees as “not nearly enough.”

“I cannot lobby Congress, but you can” he told airport executives and other stakeholders, “You should drive home the message this is not a bridge to nowhere. The money is all accountable. If [lawmakers] vote for [adequate funds], you can show taxpayers what they get; jobs, safety projects – you can be proud that you voted for CARES.”

Gertsen added that NBAA, airport groups and other general aviation associations are working hard on Capitol Hill in support of the additional funding for airports.

Read the NBAA and coalition letter to congressional leaders supporting relief funding for airports.

Shaffer took pride in how the FAA internally adapted to the pandemic, ramping up computer bandwidth from serving 9,000 remote employees to 33,000 staff doing their job on-line. Working from home, the Office of Airports staff distributed the $10 billion in CARES Act funds in eight days. Shaffer added that from an average of eight and a half grants processed per day, the agency zoomed to a rate of 77 per day.

One issue that Shaffer cut no slack on was the diversion of revenue for non-airport programs and projects, including both on-airport dollars and fuel taxes paid to states and municipalities. “Some states are in trouble with us now,: he said. “They are getting pointed communications from us. There’s only one way to characterize how I feel about revenue diversion – I hate it.”

NBAA in its collaboration with the FAA continues to promote the responsible use of airport funds.

Shaffer also updated airport executives on the current status of FAA safety inspections, adding that the FAA has approved inspectors to travel to airports in their own personal aircraft, emphasizing the important capability business aviation offers to the agency. The FAA is placing the health of its employees and all other airport stakeholders at the forefront, he said, while it begins to relaunch in-person inspections.

View the Zoom recording of the session on NEC/AAAE website – available upon the conclusion of the full event.