The New York area’s three major airports are getting short-changed by the U.S. government, according to a study to be released today by a group that advocates more investment in the facilities.
Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International ranked near the bottom of a survey of annual construction grants allocated to 369 airports by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the Global Gateway Alliance.
LaGuardia, which Vice President Joe Biden likened to a facility in a third-world country, got $3.8 million in federal Airport Improvement Program grants, according to the survey. The airport, which had almost 13 million departures in 2012, received the same amount as Show Low Regional Airport in Arizona, which had 3,850.
Thirty-five percent of the almost $4 billion in FAA grants for airport improvements went to facilities that served fewer than 10,000 passengers, according to the survey.
“When the federal government gives almost $1.4 billion to airports that serve less than 1 percent of the nation’s passengers, at the expense of the busiest airport system in the country, there’s something seriously wrong,” Joe Sitt, chairman of the alliance, said in a statement.
Sitt is chief executive officer of Thor Equities LLC, a New York City-based real estate developer. The alliance, which says lack of investment in the airports is impeding economic growth in the most populous U.S. metropolitan area, is made up of representatives from the real estate and hotel industries, and labor.
The FAA defends the program, saying less-busy airports support non-commercial flights for business, agriculture, firefighting and emergency response in many remote communities.
“These smaller airports are also vital to maintain our national system of airports,” Marcia Adams, an FAA spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Many bigger airports also have access to capital funding from other sources, such as charges placed on tickets, and bond financing, Adams said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called the New York airports a disgrace and vowed to redevelop them. Last year, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty served 54 million departing passengers and handled one third of the nation’s flights. They are also consistently ranked as the worst U.S. airports in delays, design and cleanliness.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs the three airports, is allocating $8 billion to construction at the facilities during the next 10 years. That includes $2.2 billion to replace LaGuardia’s 50-year-old central terminal.
The three airports ranked in the top 20 for the least funding per passenger, according to the survey. Newark ranked fourth-lowest, at $0.24 per passenger. LaGuardia was ranked eighth, at $0.29 per passenger, while JFK ranked 18th, receiving $0.56 per passenger. Houston’s William P. Hobby airport received the least, at $0.09 per passenger.
Vernal Regional Airport, serving a town of fewer than 10,000 people 175 miles (282 kilometers) east of Salt Lake City, received the most federal funding, $998 for each of its 7,370 passengers. Show Low, about 180 miles northeast of Phoenix, was the second-highest at $986.50. Show Low has two flights daily on Beech-1900 twin-engine turboprops to Phoenix and Denver.
“Funding must be fixed to focus on airports like ours in New York and New Jersey that have real national significance,” Sitt said.
The New York City-area airports are among the 98 of the busiest 100 airports that are allowed by the federal government to impose a $4.50 charge on passenger tickets to pay for capital projects.
The Port Authority collected $232.4 million in passenger-facility charges last year, according to agency financial statements. The FAA has approved almost 400 airports to collect passenger charges.
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