Last week I introduced H.R. 3159, the Small Airport Relief Act, legislation designed to ensure federal funding remains at current levels for small, regional airports.

Many smaller, mostly rural, airports utilize the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for capital improvement projects and safety enhancements. Airports which reach 10,000 boarders in a calendar year receive $1 million in grant funds, while airports boarding fewer than 10,000 passengers are eligible for $150,000.

My legislation would place a two-year moratorium on the FAA’s 10,000 boarding requirement, allowing airports which reached the threshold in calendar year 2008 to continue to receive their applicable AIP funding. It is the House version of S. 1202, introduced by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE).

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush placed a moratorium on the 10,000 boardings requirement, knowing the after-effects of the terrorist attack would seriously reduce the number of people traveling by air.

During these tough economic times, fewer people are traveling by air and some airports will not reach 10,000 boardings this year. Because of this, airports which normally reach the 10,000 passenger threshold will be eligible for a fraction of the funds for which they have budgeted. These funds are critical in order to adhere to federal safety requirements.

Rural airports play a key role in local communities by attracting and retaining businesses dependent on commercial air service. This sudden decrease in funding could be disastrous for airports and even cause some to scale back or eliminate commercial air service.