California's Airport Budget Crisis

California’s Airport Budget Crisis
An Imminent Disaster For Aviation?

By Colleen Turner

Since 1947, Caltrans Division of Aeronautics has done an excellent job integrating aviation into transportation system planning, promoting safe and efficient general aviation airports, fostering compatible land use around airports and administering airport grant programs. It has performed brilliantly despite the fact that only $8 million of the nearly $215 million in State and local taxes collected annually from the aviation industry is directed to the Aeronautics Account, which is the sole State source of funding for Caltrans Division of Aeronautics and the programs it manages.

In light of California’s current budget crisis, Governor Gray Davis has proposed a major whack to Caltrans Division of Aeronautics’ budget. On page five in the Mid-Year Spending Reduction Proposals published by the State of California in December 2002, it states: “The Administration proposes that an additional $5.2 million be transferred from the Aeronautics Account reserve to the General Fund.” Buried in a 35-page document that outlines reductions and adjustments totaling $10.2 billion over the next two years, you would hardly notice the $5.2 million. But it is a significant amount of money to Caltrans Division of Aeronautics, with an annual budget of only $8 million.

All State grant programs for airports are funded from the Aeronautics Account. Today, 149 general aviation airports depend on their Annual Grant entitlement of $10,000 to fund operations, maintenance, liability insurance, salaries, fueling facilities, etc. In addition, many of California’s general aviation airports rely on the State to fund half of the 10% match required to receive FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. (The local match for an AIP grant is 10% of the project’s cost). AIP grants typically fund critical capital improvements such as construction and rehabilitation of runways, taxiways and aprons.

If the $5.2 million is transferred from the Aeronautics Account to the General Fund, these programs will lose their funding and general aviation airports statewide will suffer the consequences. With declining city/county budgets, many airports will not be able to make up for the loss of State funds. And, it is estimated that California general aviation airports could lose up to $60 million in FAA AIP grant monies if they are unable to fund their half of the 10% local match! Caltrans Division of Aeronautics itself could be a casualty and its demise would further undermine California’s aviation infrastructure.

Think about the tragedy of this situation — while $5.2 million would not even make a microscopic dent in the $35 billion State deficit, it would deal a crippling blow to general aviation in California.

We, pilots, must do everything in our power to keep the $5.2 million working for general aviation. Every California general aviation airport is an important link in the air transportation system and requires funding to be properly maintained and improved.

Write to your state legislators and tell them how local communities benefit from general aviation airports and what an economic blow it would be to lose up to $60 million in federal airport grant monies. Tell them a personal story about your general aviation airport – how a local pilot volunteered his or her time and airplane through Angel Flight to fly patients for medical treatments or how Forest Service water bomber pilots flew from your airport to protect homes and national forests. Let them know that the health of California’s air transportation system depends on the $5.2 million remaining in the Aeronautics Account.

If you don’t know who the state legislators are in your district, go to and type in your zip code.

If you’re still hesitating to take action after reading this article, then ask yourself this question: “If the $5.2 million is transferred from the Aeronautics Account to the General Fund, where will I land tomorrow?”

Colleen Turner is an Airport Grant Consultant with Ford, Turner & Associates and a private, instrument-rated pilot who has been flying for 15 years. You can email comments to:

1. Technical Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (TAC) Report on the State’s Role in Aviation, October 2001.