It’s not just airlines – and airline contractors – who got a big piece of the federal CARES Act. U.S. airports also had $10 billion in grants set aside for them.
When the Small Business Administration was tasked with pushing hundreds of billions of dollars out the door in a matter of weeks with little oversight, it’s not at all surprising that the program became something of a mess. But the $10 billion the FAA was asked to send to airports became a mess, too.
Over 3200 different airports received money. This wasn’t just for major commercial hubs, but also for the smallest general aviation fields too. Here are the top 10 recipients:
|Hartsfield – Jackson Atlanta International||$338,535,265|
|Los Angeles International||$323,636,269|
|Dallas-Fort Worth International||$299,199,046|
|Chicago O’Hare International||$294,441,928|
|San Francisco International||$254,780,449|
|John F Kennedy International||$193,389,105|
Some of the general aviation airport grants were quite small, even as little as $30,000 and in a few cases just $1000. Small commercial airports like Yakutat, Alaska received just $1 million. Yuma, Arizona – which sees just American Eagle service and had fewer than 80,000 commercial passengers in 2018 – received $4.4 million. Fresno, Syracuse, and Rochester each received about $13 million.
Merced, California – which I do not think even gets commercial service anymore – received $17 million. But that’s less than the $18 million that Garden City, Kansas got. The East Wenatchee, Washington airport (airport code “EAT”) got $18 million as well.
There are a number of oddities in the funds disbursed to airports, but perhaps none quite so odd as Knox County Regional Airport (“RKD”) in Owls Head, Maine which received $17,925,850 which is “enough to cover operations and security for the next 25 years.”
Credit: Knox County Regional Airport
Knox County Regional Airport has 3 scheduled Cape Air Cessnas a day to Boston. It is also the home base of Penobscot Island Air, which flies Cessnas to 3 destinations in Maine’s Penobscot Bay.
The airport’s manager said he “hasn’t slept” since receiving the award, he was “quite surprised.”
Knox County will actually receive just over $2 million from the FAA in initial funding because of a cap that limits it to four years of operating expenses. The remainder of the $18 million can be used for allowable expenses, including construction, over the next four years, according to an FAA spokeswoman.
…Half the funding was based on the number of passenger boardings – those with more passengers received higher awards. …But the calculation model approved by the U.S. Senate also took into account debt and cash reserves. Twenty-five percent of the award was based on airport debt, and the other 25 percent was based on an airport’s ratio of debt to cash reserves.
Since this airport had no debt and had cash on hand, it received a windfall. And it’s not the only one.
Devils Lake, North Dakota received 50 times what they spend in a year. Merrill Field in Alaska got nine years of expenses. Johnstown, Pennsylavia’s airport which averaged about a dozen passengers a day before the pandemic got $5 million.