About $75 to $100 million of the billions of dollars allocated to airports through CARES Act, the CRRSAA Act and ARPA Grants will be “clawed back” by the federal government due under the new debt ceiling law, according to Shanetta Griffin, associate administrator of airports for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Griffin spoke Sunday in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Association of Airport Executives. She said roughly $180 million of the $20 billion in overall airport funding through those programs was initially in jeopardy when debt ceiling talks accelerated this spring. But airports acted quickly to ensure their funds were locked in.
“Of the $20 billion that we had to execute on, about 99% of those became obligated,” Griffin said. “Thank you to all the airports that did do that. But unfortunately, there are some monies that will be clawed back along with our administrative piece.”
Griffin called out concessions funds, in particular, as being left on the table during this process. “We did have several airports on the concession side that rejected those dollars, then those dollars are a part of that debt ceiling claw back and those are no longer available for obligation,” she said.
Andrew Weddig, executive director of the Airport Restaurant & Retail Association, clarified to AXN that the concessions-related monies taken back by the federal government amounted to less than $10 million. That money was initially earmarked to go to 30-plus very small commercial service airports, some of which likely don’t have an active concessions program or have very minimal concessions.
Bigger picture, Griffin also discussed the unprecedented funding airports have received in recent years, from the $20 million in infrastructure funds to AIP funds to supplemental discretionary grants.
“Truly this is historical dollars that have been influxed into the airport community,” Griffin said. “Certainly being able to provide monies for airport terminals is exciting for us, because not only are we seeing our larger airports being able to expand … but we’re seeing smaller airports now able to build out a new terminal and change the economics of that community and the airline capacity at that community.”
While Griffin said the FAA is reaching its goals on obligating funds, she urged airports to pay attention to the fine points of the process.
“As far as lessons learned, one thing I will say is that we really need airports to pay attention to the criteria that we ask for,” she said. “We’ve had several airports where we asked for projects to be able to be executed on by July 1 [of the grant year]. We’ve had airports that have had to turn back money because of the fact that they were not ready. We really need airports to… make sure that all of the elements that were required are taken care of before they file the application because it is a very competitive environment.
“Then, with the eight criteria that are listed in the [Notice of Funding Opportunity], you really make sure that you come up with the best conversation back to us as to why your airport should beat out another airport,” Griffin continued. “We have airports that come in and they don’t put any information in. We know that you may not meet all eight of those, but certainly we’re looking at areas like resiliency, competition, increasing that capacity and bringing together disadvantaged communities. That’s very, very important in regards to how your application stands up against another.”