New Infrastructure Law Has Long-Reaching Effects for Aviation

Industry experts say the trillion-dollar package can help everything from pandemic rebounding, to technology, to community growth.

Representatives from some of the aviation industry’s leading trade organizations are expressing enthusiasm this week after President Joe Biden signed into law a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which they say will provide needed funding to support general and business aviation. 

The legislation, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is one of the largest infrastructure plans in decades and will inject $550 billion in new spending for infrastructure in the U.S., including investments to modernize the country’s transportation systems. Of that, the FAA is expected to receive $5 billion over the next five years. 

While there will be obvious improvements like taxiway and runway construction and updating, largely unseen infrastructure supporting the entire aviation system is also likely to see a boost in funding. From control towers to staffing—supporting more than 12,000 facilities across all 50 states and territories—the industry welcomes this new injection of monies to be deployed in the coming fiscal year. 

Pandemic Rebound

The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE)—which lobbied ardently for the law—is keen to use the funding to support its more than 7,000 members to speed the completion of key airport projects across the country, especially as passengers return to travel following the pandemic.

“We know that there will be a trickle-down benefit to the general aviation industry as we see investments overall in the power grid, in our energy sector resilience, in cybersecurity, and clean energy technology like hydrogen.”

Karen Huggard, managing director of legislative affairs and industry relations, NATA

“The bipartisan infrastructure legislation will fuel tens of billions of dollars in critical federal investments in airports—large and small—that will pay huge dividends in the near term and for years to come for travelers, workers, communities, business and general aviation, and the environment,” said Joel Bacon, executive vice president of government and public affairs for AAAE.

“AAAE is now focused on working with our partners at [the Department of Transportation], FAA, and with the White House Infrastructure Implementation Task Force to distribute funding to commercial service, general aviation, and contract tower airports as quickly as possible and with as much flexibility as possible,” Bacon said.

In the run-up to the signing, Kevin Burke, the North American president and CEO of the Airports Council International, pointed out the $115 billion in backlog funding necessary for infrastructure projects across U.S. airports. 

“When the average airport facility is more than 40 years old and designed pre-9/11 and now pre-pandemic, investing in airport infrastructure is a mutually beneficial opportunity for our passengers, our local communities, our concessions partners, and the airlines who use our facilities.”

Technology Benefits

Ryan Waguespack, senior vice president for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), said the law gives an opportunity for the industry to position itself for the surging advanced air mobility (AAM) sector.

His colleague at NATA, Karen Huggard, managing director of legislative affairs and industry relations, added, “We know that there will be a trickle-down benefit to the general aviation industry as we see investments overall in the power grid, in our energy sector resilience, in cybersecurity, and clean energy technology like hydrogen.”

“Investment in the research and development, the expansion, and the resiliency of all these areas will have benefits for all of us as we move into that next generation of aircraft,” Huggard shared.

Community Growth

The consensus across trade organizations is that it is important that this law make provisions directly for general aviation airports because they fundamentally improve the communities in which they exist. 

President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Courtesy: whitehouse.gov

“Our real belief is that our general aviation airports are at the center of what we all do as general aviation enthusiasts, or business aviation departments,” Huggard said.

“Their health and success really enable aviation businesses to continue creating well-paying jobs, push out economic development and growth into communities across the country.”

Scott O’Brien, senior director for public policy and advocacy for the National Business Aviation Association, said his group is keen on developing “human infrastructure” by creating educational programs for students that show careers in STEM and aviation are attractive paths. 

“The long game of educating people about this as an opportunity—business aviation, general aviation, and pilot careers in general—I think it is really important to have the Department of Transportation embracing that.”

Sustainability 

In the meantime, Paul Feldman, vice president of government affairs for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), said his organization is also focused on the larger infrastructure package, particularly the reconciliation law that is now before the House and could be voted on this weekend. The reconciliation law is positioned to support the industry’s commitment to sustainability and cleaner energy.

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