DOT Announces $969M in Airport Terminal Grants

On July 7, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced 91 airport terminal development grants totaling $969 million, from funding provided for this new program by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA).

“Americans deserve modern airports that meet the needs of their families and growing passenger demand. Funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, today’s grants will improve airport terminals while also creating good jobs in communities across the country,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The full list of 91 new airport terminal grants is here and a data visualization tool is here.

The ongoing federal Airport Improvement Program (in existence in one form or another since 1946) has always been focused on “airside” infrastructure – runways, taxiways, lighting, and other infrastructure designed to let planes of all kinds take off and land safely. As far as what the planes load and unload while on the ground, whether that be passengers or cargo, that is “groundside” activity and was traditionally left up to the local government, or to the airport itself through the “head tax” pioneered by the Evansville, Indiana airport in 1971 and now called the Passenger Facility Charge.

The IIJA created a new 5-year, $5 billion program to allow direct federal involvement in groundside terminal development for the first time. Funds are “to provide competitive grants for airport terminal development projects that address the aging infrastructure of the nation’s airports.”

In selecting winners for a competitive program like this, a Secretary is faced with contradictory urges – do the most good for the largest number of air passengers (which means concentrating grants in the largest airports with the most traffic), or doing the most good for the largest number of airports (which involves spreading the wealth very widely, which also works with Congress, where giving every Member of Congress a grant every year would be the ideal).

With that in mind, the IIJA provided limitations on how much of the money had to go to each size classification of airport, which the first round of grants met:

Airport Type IIJA Limitation Awarded
Large Hub Not more than $550m $530.5
Medium Hub Not more than $150m $112.4
Small Hub Not more than $200m $194.0
Nonhub/Nonprimary Not less than $100m $131.7

There was a wide disparity between grant sizes by airport classification:

Smallest Largest
Large Hub $3,800,000 $60,000,000
Medium Hub $320,000 $20,000,000
Small Hub $665,000 $20,415,727
Nonhub Primary $95,000 $15,000,000
GA/Nonprimary $36,000 $3,800,000

And, once one weighs the FY 2022 grants by the amount of 2021 passenger traffic in each airport, some interesting grant disparities pop out.

FY 2022 Airport Terminal Grants Amounts, Divided by CY 2021 Enplanements
Smallest p.c. Largest p.c.
Large Hub $0.31 $4.58
Medium Hub $0.18 $10.93
Small Hub $0.46 $41.10
Nonhub Primary $3.70 $760.51

(For more about the $760.51 per annual passenger grant, see this article in this week’s issue of ETW).

About 45 percent of the 2022 grant money went to airports getting $35 million or more from this cycle of grants. (We selected for $25 million but did not find any getting between $25 million and $35 million). This $436 million in airport terminal grants, some of which saw multiple 2022 grants per airport, were as follows:

Airport Grants Total (M$)
Boston Logan 2 $62.0
Denver International 1 $60.0
Los Angeles International 1 $50.0
Orlando International 1 $50.0
Detroit-Wayne County 3 $49.6
Washington-Dulles 1 $49.6
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta 1 $40.0
George Bush Intercontinental 1 $40.0
Dallas-Ft Worth International 1 $35.0

When looking at the individual grant descriptions, it’s too early to tell without seeing details, but given how much of a hellhole the ground approach to LAX is, this certainly seems like it could be $50 million well spent: “Reconstruction and modernization of approx. 40,000lf terminal roadway system including reconfiguration of LAX CTA entrance.”

And another $49.6 million for Washington Dulles also seems to fall into the category of “why didn’t somebody do this sooner”: “Construction of Tier 2 (East) 14-Gate Concourse to replace existing temporary concourse constructed in 1999 with a new concourse served by loading bridges and access to the Dulles Aerotrain system.”

On the opposite end of the scale, the smallest grant was just $36,000 for the Augusta, Kansas airport (city population: 9,256): “This project removes and installs a new HVAC system in the general aviation terminal building.”

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