How airports can make the most of their funding
With the passage of another economic stimulus package that includes major funding for the aviation industry, airports across the nation will begin to consider how they can get the most out of their allotted funding following one of the industry’s most difficult years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this IQ&A, Garver’s series of conversations with leading experts delivering value to communities across the country, Director of Aviation Mike Griffin, PE, discusses how airports can capitalize on the funding available for their projects and why the aviation industry has a responsibility to move these projects forward with a sense of urgency.
When CARES Act funding was first mentioned in 2020, Garver strategized for its airport clients by identifying high-probability projects and moving quickly to get them ready to bid, even before funding was guaranteed. Why was that important?
In situations like this, you don’t always know how much money there will be or how long it will last. You need to be prepared, and if there’s funding to be had, we want our airports to be at the front of the line. We did the same with the Obama-era stimulus funding; whether it was capital improvement strategies that could be accelerated or shovel-ready plans and quick bids, our airports were at the front.
What advantage do you see in that?
It was a huge advantage—and the strategy worked. Several of our clients landed large grants or were able to accelerate multi-year projects because they had work ready to go. We’re seeing that again right now, with several quick deadlines imposed by the FAA to open bids and execute grants. All this helps the FAA program managers do their jobs and spend the funding.
Many have adopted a wait-and-see position on executing projects or programs. What’s the risk in that?
Last year, projects were stopped at some facilities because of uncertainty over traffic levels and funding. Looking at construction and materials costs in 2021, we know there is a pent-up demand that’s already beginning to take hold. When it’s fully realized, construction costs will go up even further and contractors won’t be as available. Strategists will go ahead and put projects out to bid while contractors are aggressive and costs are lower. In addition, while traffic counts are depressed, an airport can knock out a project much faster and with less disruption.
Where has Garver successfully helped expedite projects during the pandemic?
At Dallas Love Field, Southwest Airlines experienced a significant decrease in operations. Our design team, the airport, and Southwest took advantage of a difficult situation and partnered to close five gates near the project area to allow multiple phases of construction to occur earlier than planned, while increasing the available work area. Using that low-traffic period to move our client’s project forward resulted in the project being completed faster and under budget in the face of a global pandemic.
How do the recently released $8 billion in Airport Rescue Grants affect your strategy?
The Airport Rescue Grants, provided by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, have really confirmed our strategy. These new grants allow airports to free up funding normally used for operations, and those airports with projects at the ready can move ahead sooner, taking advantage of contractor availability and (for now) lower materials costs.
To learn more about how Garver's Aviation Team can help you, contact Mike today.