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Since its downward plunge during the COVID-19 pandemic, air travel demand has grown yearly and even surpassed pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration declared that 2023 was the U.S. aviation industry’s busiest year for air travel, with 16.3 million flights. With this significant upturn, airports across the country are struggling to handle the increase in demand and urgently seeking ways to upgrade airport infrastructure and expand their operations, including safety and security.

To help U.S. airports achieve this, federal, state, and local agencies and organizations have set up multiple airport funding opportunities, such as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant, to support airports in their plans to expand, improve sustainability projects and enhance safety and security. 

This comprehensive guide is designed to help airport managers, local government officials, airport finance officers and other stakeholders understand the airport grants available to improve safety and security. You will learn about how airport grants work, the different types available, eligibility requirements, how to apply for funding and best practices for making the most of these airport grants.

What is airport funding for safety and security?

Airport grant funding for improving safety and security is awarded by federal, state or local agencies and organizations that meet a set of specific criteria. Ranging from thousands to millions of dollars, these programs, such as the AIP grant, are intended to provide airport funding opportunities that improve safety by replacing outdated security technologies, investing in additional technology such as commercial surveillance systems, enhanced access control and perimeter security, as well as enhancing security checkpoint procedures, among other things.

To secure an airport grant fund, the airport must meet a specific set of criteria. For example, one requirement could be that only an airport with commercial passenger services, freight or cargo activity or solely general aviation traffic can apply. It’s also important to ensure that the airport complies with the terms and conditions outlined by the grant provider to avoid revoking or refunding the funding.

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What are the different types of airport grant funding?

A common misconception about how airports are funded or who funds them is that it is achieved only through taxpayers’ dollars. However, the truth is that airport infrastructure projects are supported through different grants. These airport funding sources include programs such as the FAA’s AIP, the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) local user fee and airport revenues and fees.

There are various airport funding opportunities available for public-use airports. Each airport grant fund has its own criteria that airports must meet to secure airport development funding to enhance safety and security.

Airport Improvement Program (AIP) federal grants for airports 

The FAA provides the AIP. This FAA airport grant, or FAA airport improvement program, provides AIP funding to public agencies, private owners and entities for planning and developing public-use airports, which are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS).

The AIP grant covers 75% of eligible costs (or 80% for noise program implementation) for large and medium primary hub airports. For small primary, reliever and general aviation airports, based on statutory requirements, the airport improvement program grants cover between 90 and 95% of eligible costs. The remaining costs must be matched by the airport.

Projects eligible for AIP funding include improvements to airport safety, security, capacity and environmental concerns. Professional services performed during these projects, such as planning, surveying and design, can also be eligible. Projects around airport operations do not qualify for AIP funding nor do the operational costs involved, such as salaries and equipment. 

AIP funding eligibility and requirements

AIP funding is eligible for public-use airports that are included in the NPIAS and are:

  • Publicly owned, or

  • Privately owned but designated by the FAA as a reliever, or

  • Privately owned but having scheduled service and at least 2,500 annual enplanements

Projects eligible for AIP funding can be found on the FAA’s website and are related to improving airport safety, security, capacity and environmental concerns. To secure the AIP airport funding, the FAA must determine that the airport’s project is justified based on civil aviation demand and they must meet environmental and procurement requirements. In addition, the following must apply regarding the project:

  • Sponsorship requirements have been met.

  • Plans are consistent with the plans of planning agencies for the development of the airport’s area.

  • Sufficient funds are available for the portion of the project not covered by the FAA grants.

  • It will be completed without undue delay.

  • It involves more than $25,000 in AIP funding.

  • It is depicted on a current airport layout plan approved by the FAA.

Airports that successfully secure the FAA’s AIP grants must accept the conditions and obligations associated with the grant assurances. Such assurances relate to operating and maintaining the airport in a safe and serviceable condition, mitigating airspace hazards, not issuing exclusive rights and using airport revenue responsibly.

FAA grants, such as the AIP, are highly sought after and, therefore, demand often exceeds availability. As a result, the FAA must choose sponsors (recipients of funding) with high-priority projects that match national priorities and objectives.

Other federal grants for airports

There are three other federal grants for airports provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). They include the Airport Infrastructure Grants (AIG), the Airport Terminals Program (ATP) and the Air Traffic Facilities Program. Each has its own set of criteria required to secure a grant for use for a safety and security project.

Airport Infrastructure Grants (AIG)

The Airport Infrastructure Grants provide $15 billion USD in airport infrastructure funding. This airport fund from the AIG can be invested towards runways, taxiways, roadways, safety and sustainability projects, as well as terminal and airport-transit connections. 

For 2024, the FAA has made almost $3 billion USD available to U.S. airports, and, to date, nearly $9 billion USD in Airport Infrastructure Grants has been made available since its inception.

Airport Terminals Program

The BIL has allocated $5 billion USD to provide FAA airport grants that help develop terminals. This ATP airport funding aims to enhance safety, sustainability and accessibility at airport terminals to improve the passenger experience. 

Air Traffic Facilities Program

A total of $5 billion USD has been allocated to upgrade the foundation of the FAA’s air traffic control. This airport funding aims to reduce the maintenance backlog and replace critical buildings and equipment needed to manage airspace and facility safety. 

Passenger Facility Charges Program (PFC)

The PFC program allows airports to charge up to $4.50 USD for every eligible passenger at commercial airports managed by public agencies. These charges fund FAA-approved project grants that improve safety, security or capability as well as reduce noise or increase air carrier competition. 

The PFCs can be used to fund projects not eligible for AIP funding as long as the projects are eligible for PFC funding.

State grants for airports

In addition to federal grants for airports, state governments also fund aviation projects. It’s important to note that state funding varies greatly across the U.S. depending on how airport grants are funded and the organization that distributes them. Typically, the funding is raised through fees and taxes levied on passengers using an airport in the state and on aircraft owners. 

These grants are incredibly important to airports that are not part of the FAA’s NPIAS and are sometimes the sole source of funding. State government airport funding, like PFCs, can be used to fund airport projects that are not eligible for AIP funding and contribute to a part or all of the local match for an AIP airport grant. 

As with AIP funding and other FAA airport grants, state grants also come with specific requirements and assurances as to what airports can do with the funds. This ensures that the airport funding is put towards the agreed projects to maintain safe and efficient airport operations. 

Local grants for airports

Funding secured through local means is often generated through tax revenue and usage fees collected by the airport. Local grant funding is vital to smaller local airports that do not see the volumes of passenger and air traffic at regional, national and international airports. It is sometimes their only source of funding for capital airport projects, especially for projects that are not eligible for federal grants for airports and state government grants.

How to find airport funding opportunities

To keep up to date with the latest federal grants for airports, it is important to monitor the FAA’s website closely, in particular the Airports webpage. On this page, the various FAA airport funding grants can be found listed with links to pages for further information about the grants, eligibility requirements and how to apply. In addition to monitoring the website, prospective applicants should also closely follow the newsroom as well as the FAA’s social media to get the latest updates and information on federal grants for airports.

Another important source of news and information regarding AIP funding and airport funding in general is the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) website. The ACI-NA represents local, regional and state governing bodies that own and operate commercial airports in the U.S. and Canada.

Tips for writing your airport grant application

1. Planning and research

As with any successful application, thorough planning and preparation are crucial to justifying grant funding for an airport. 

For example, detailed research must be completed for the project for which they’re seeking FAA grants or any other airport funding. First and foremost, the applicant and the project must meet the eligibility requirements set out by the grant provider. If the applicant and/​or project is not eligible for airport funding, the application will be rejected. 

In addition, the applicant should also understand the following to ensure no detail is missed:

  • Grant application submission deadline dates

  • Registration information

  • Grant program’s contact details

  • Supporting evidence and required completed forms

This is also the stage at which the applicant will calculate the required funding to carry out their airport project successfully. Accuracy is crucial, as many grant providers don’t allow amendments at a later stage. A complete project cost breakdown must be done to highlight procurement costs for security technologies, specialist tasks and more. The breakdown must also state the grant fund required and the amount that the airport will supplement to complete the project’s funding.

Grant application reviewers will want to see that the airport has done its due diligence, provided a financial analysis of the project and drawn up a plan based on reliable research. They will also seek an in-depth plan on how the airport funding will help the airport deliver a project that enhances airport operations, sustainability and/​or safety and commercial security, and help the grant provider to achieve its objectives.

2. Project information

If the project to improve safety and security is listed as an eligible project, the applicant is required to detail what the project will entail, its timeline and how it will benefit the airport and passengers in the short and long term with supporting evidence. 

It’s important to remember that the application reviewer will see multiple similar applications for projects that are similar. Therefore, to stand the best chance of successfully obtaining funding, the application should demonstrate the importance of the project to the airport’s operations and the passengers and aircraft owners using the facility.

3. Benefit-cost analysis (BCA)

To support the application for FAA grants, such as AIP funding and any other funding, a BCA can highlight the net benefit that the aviation community will have from the improvement project. If that project is to enhance safety and security, the benefit of helping to secure the airport and safeguard passengers, airline crews and site workers can outweigh the cost of carrying out the project and investing in the solutions required.

For AIP funding, a BCA is mandatory for all projects that require more than $10 million USD in AIP discretionary funds, although a BCA can be requested for projects that will cost less, too.

4. Complete and submit the application

A grant application must be completed and submitted to the provider to officially apply for airport funding. These forms, which can be obtained from the provider’s website, need to be completed and include details on the applicant, the project that requires funding and a cost breakdown to highlight how the grant will support the delivery of the project.

Before applying, it is recommended that the applicant seek additional reviews from other stakeholders, particularly organizations that support applicants with the grant process. This will help identify any potential errors or missing parts and clarify any elements of the application that may cause confusion. Once addressed, the application should be submitted before the application window closes.

5. Application review and result

Once the grant provider receives the application, it will be reviewed and assessed against the criteria and requirements set out by the airport funding program. The provider, whether the FAA or a state or local agency, will assess the project’s capability to enhance safety and security at the airport.

Each element of the application will be scored to provide an overall score for the application and whether it merits airport funding for that grant program. The success of the application depends on the score and how it ranks in terms of priority for the grant provider. For example, for AIP funding, the FAA will score highly and prioritize the projects that are likely to have a greater impact on the goals of the FAA than those that will have a minimal impact. Projects that enhance airport safety and security will be given the highest priority by the FAA.

Once the application has been thoroughly vetted, scored and prioritized by the grant provider, a decision will be made as to whether airport funding will be provided to support an airport improvement project. The applicant will receive official notice of the decision soon after.

Securing airport funding: common challenges

Competitive grant programs

Airport grant funding programs, such as the AIP funding, are incredibly competitive and attract a large volume of applications to the point where demand exceeds supply. As a result, it is difficult to succeed with an airport funding application.

To stand the best chance of overcoming this challenge, it is important to ensure that the application showcases the importance of the improvement project and how it can enhance the safety and security of the airport – a key priority for some grant providers, such as the FAA

The application must stand out against others vying for funding for similar projects. Therefore, it must highlight any unique benefits that the project will bring to the airport and community, as well as demonstrate how the improvement will help the grant provider achieve its goals and aims of the funding program.

Meeting eligibility criteria

As set out in the funding program’s information, there is a set criteria of requirements that the applicant must meet to be eligible to apply for funding. This can range from the type of airport, the project type and the use and ownership of the airport. 

It is recommended that the applicant pays close attention to all the requirements of the funding program and ensures the prospective sponsor airport meets every single criterion to pass the first stage of the application review process.

Assurances and long-term commitment

One element of airport funding programs that is overlooked is the conditions and obligations associated with the grant assurances. If an airport is successful in obtaining airport funding, it will have to adhere to certain terms and conditions when using the funding and how the airport operates.

Such assurances can relate to using all of the funding for the approved project, operating an airport in a safe and serviceable condition and using airport revenue responsibly. There may even be assurances that are strict and require the airport to significantly change the way it manages certain aspects of airport operations. Therefore, it is paramount that the applicant reviews such assurances and long-term commitments before agreeing to apply for grants.

Best practices for using airport funding

If the applicant is successful in obtaining funding, it pays to follow some best practices to ensure they get the most out of the money. Here are some key best practices to adhere to once FAA or federal grants for airports or any other type of airport funding is secured:

Assign roles and responsibilities

Once the grant funding has been approved, it is recommended that the applicant form a team to deliver the approved project. This will involve support from airport management, IT, security, finance, and even marketing. Once roles have been assigned to each team member, responsibilities must be clearly defined to help ensure that each element of the project is delivered as planned and on time.

Use the funding for its intended purpose

Although an obvious point, using the funding for the project it was intended for is compulsory. This doesn’t just apply to using the funding for security technologies, but it also applies to any eligible professional services required to help complete the project. 

Failure to use the airport funding for the pre-approved project would result in the sponsor not meeting the assurances that they had agreed to during the application process. This could lead to financial penalties, reputational harm and being denied future local and international airport funding opportunities.

Regular project check-ins

Scheduling regular project check-ins will help keep project deliverables on track and ensure that the funding program’s terms and conditions are being met. These meetings will also provide oversight into how the airport funding is being utilized.

Seek the best value

When it comes to investing in security solutions that will enhance airport safety, it is important to use airport funding wisely to get the best value out of it. Investing the funding in the most technologically advanced products may not be a wise decision as the funding will likely need to be stretched to ensure multiple solutions are procured. This part of the project will have been worked out in the initial planning and research phase of the whole process.

Contacting a trusted security partner is an important step to achieve this. They will be able to understand the project requirements and showcase security solutions that best help deliver the safety the airport seeks and stay within a pre-defined budget.

Conclusion

The airport grant funding process can be complex and difficult to succeed in. However, when successful, the airport grants can help to elevate the level of safety and security at airports significantly. 

With fierce competition vying for these airport funding opportunities, the prospective applicant must be thorough with their research, diligent and accurate with the application process and adhere to their pre-approved project plans when funding is secured. This includes the implementation of robust airport security cameras, which are important components in enhancing surveillance capabilities and ensuring passenger safety.

When combined with support from a trusted partner, like Pelco, and grant experts, the applicant is in good stead to succeed with their application for airport funding.

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