Airport Improvement Program Funding and AWOS
The Airport Improvement Program (AIP) is a grants-in-aid program launched by the US Federal Government in 1982 to promote and support the planning and development of public-use airports in the United States which can be used to fund eligible projects including Automated Weather Observing Systems.
America’s airports are aging. Some experts estimate it will take over $115 billion to revitalize the slowly failing infrastructure. For many airports, the cost is too great to shoulder alone and therefore funding new projects is often a joint venture between an airport owner, the state department of transportation, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
One of the programs in place to help prioritize and distribute federal grants is the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).
Originally launched under a different name in 1946, the current program, established in 1982, by the Airport and Airway Improvement Act is responsible for awarding grants to projects related to enhancing the safety, capacity, security, and environmental concerns of airports. Highest priority is often given to safety, security, reconstruction and capacity standards.
In order to qualify for a grant from the AIP, an airport must be both open to the public and publicly owned. If an airport is privately owned it must either be designated by the FAA as a reliever or have scheduled service and at least 2,500 annual enplanements. Eligible airports must be included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) which is prepared and published every two years.
If your airport is eligible under the Airport Improvement Program, grants will cover 75% for large and medium primary hub airport projects and over 90% for small, primary, reliever, and general aviation airports.
As Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) monitor meteorological conditions and keep aviation personnel informed of changing weather patterns both on the runway and the surrounding area they assist in promoting the safety of an airport and are eligible for funding through the AIP, so long as they meet additional criteria.
What are the Criteria for an AIP Grant?
In order to qualify for an eligible grant from the Airport Improvement Program a project must meet certain criteria according to the AIP Handbook. These criteria include:
- The project sponsorship requirements have been met. Recipients of grants are referred to as sponsors by the FAA. Sponsors are generally a public agency, private owner, or a state entity that is associated with a public-use airport. Eligibility and requirements are outlined in chapter two of the AIP Handbook.
- The project is reasonably consistent with the plans of local, state, and federal planning agencies for the development of the area in which the airport is located.
- Sufficient funds are available for the portion of the project not paid for by the Federal Government. These funds can come through a variety of other programs such as state funding, state sponsorships, block grants, or local support and private capital funding.
- The project will be completed without undue delay.
- The airport location is included in the current version of the NPIAS.
- The project involves more than $25,000 in AIP funds.
- The project is depicted on a current airport layout plan approved by the FAA.
Applying for an AIP Grant for an AWOS System
Not only will an up-to-date aviation AWOS system promote safety and efficiency, but they also help keep airports competitive in a demanding market. Increased knowledge of meteorological occurrences in real-time weather updates enables pilots to better plan if they can take-off or land safely at any given airport and decrease weather information gaps pilots face mid-flight. This increase in information allows an airport to safely increase its traffic availability, making it more competitive in the overall marketplace, thus promoting the safety and economic growth of an airport.
As such, a new, replacement, or upgraded system meets the criteria provided by the FAA for an Airport Improvement Program grant. Grants are awarded at the discretion of the FAA and regional district offices who base their distribution of funds upon the list of present national priorities and objectives.
It is important for sponsors applying for a grant through the AIP to fund a NavAid or AWOS system to closely coordinate with the FAA Non-Federal Program from the very beginning of the planning process. The Non-Federal Program regulates most non-federally owned AWOS systems and aerial navigation aids (NavAids).
Remember, our nation’s airports are aging and there are only so many eligible grants awarded every year regardless of need. The Non-Federal Program oversees all technical specifications, commissioning, operation, and maintenance as well as overseeing the non-federally employed technicians who maintain the systems, and working with them from the start increases the chances of your grant being awarded.
Eligible AWOS Criteria for AIP Funding
Proposing an eligible grant to the FAA isn’t as simple as requesting a new or updated AWOS. There are several criteria considered when awarding funding. The AIP only funds certain upgrades and improvements when it comes to Automated Weather Observing Systems.
Eligible requests from the AIP for an AWOS-III or better must undergo a Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) unless the airport making the request is a primary airport or if the airport is a National or Regional Airport in the latest published edition of FAA’s ASSET report. For all new AWOS-III or greater requests there must be a BCA ratio greater than one while a proposed replacement, relocation, or rehabilitation of an existing AWOS-III or greater requires a BCA ration of .5 or greater.
If the AIP grant request is for an AWOS-A, AWOS-A/V, AWOS-I, or AWOS-II, no additional justification is required.
Similarly, a grant request for an AWOS-III or greater requires the sponsor provide the Airport District Office (ADO) with a copy of the WMSCR third party interface provider contract for reporting METAR data.
The AIP Does NOT Fund:
- General maintenance, this includes any regular or recurring work necessary to preserve existing airport facilities in good condition, any work involved in the care and cleaning of existing airport facilities, and any incidental or minor repair work on existing airport facilities. For example, the replacement of a sensor for an AWOS system.
- If another FAA owned or maintained AWOS system exists or is planned at the airport the AIP cannot be used to install a new AWOS.
- If an AIP grant request is for an AWOS-A, AWOS-A/V, AWOS-I, or AWOS-II, the bid request must not include a requirement for the system to be upgradable to an AWOS-III or better. Since not all AWOS manufacturers offer systems which can be upgraded, this limits competition. If the sponsor bids the request without an upgrade requirement and the low bidder happens to be an AWOS manufacturer who offers AWOS-III and above, the sponsor may use non-AIP funding to upgrade their system.
- Operational and periodic maintenance of the AWOS including participating in the yearly FAA inspections.
The AIP DOES Fund:
- The replacement of an existing or original AWOS system if the system has reached the end of its useful life.
- Automatic telephone answering systems or radio transmitters are an allowable cost to an AWOS under AIP.
- The first 60 days of a subscription to report the minimum METAR data to the Weather Message Switching Center Replacement (WMSCR) for the dissemination of the weather data.
How to Apply for an AIP Grant for an AWOS
On an annual basis the Federal Aviation Administration publishes the Federal Register Notice which includes the deadline for applications for the AIP. This notice is typically released between February and March.
The application deadline is usually around May 1st.
Since the AIP grant decisions and requirements are dictated by the Airports Division Managers through the regional offices, further questions about AIP eligibility should be directed to the correct Regional Airports Office.
Collecting the Funds from your AIP Grant
Once your grant has been awarded, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will provide payment through their new department-wide electronic gray payment system, Delphi eInvoicing System. The secure web-based portal allows grantees to electronically request grant payments and monitor their payment status.
Your Ongoing Obligations
Once you have accepted the AIP grant money for your AWOS, there are several conditions and obligations you agree to from the program. All grant recipients must agree to the following:
- To operate and maintain the airport in a safe and serviceable condition.
- To not grant exclusive rights.
- Mitigate hazards to airspace.
- Use airport revenue properly.
Your AWOS grant also requires all AWOS-III sponsors to be willing and able to obtain a third-party contract for the life of the equipment, to report the minimum METAR data to the WMSCR for the dissemination of weather data. Your AIP grant covers the cost of the first 60 days of a subscription; however, all costs afterwards are the responsibility of the sponsor.
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