Airports spent $561 million in federal Airport Improvement Program grants on security projects in fiscal year 2002, a record sum, the U.S. General Accounting Office says. A GAO report released Oct. 25 says 2002's AIP security spending was well above the previous high of $122 million in fiscal 1991, and nearly 10 times the $57 million in 2001.

The $561 million represents 17% of the $3.3 billion total AIP funds for 2002. AIP security spending has averaged less than 2% of the total available in past years.

Modifications to terminals received the largest amount of 2002 AIP security money, $250 million, or 45% of the total in that category. Systems to control access at airports ranked second, with $142 million, or 25%.

GAO said the increase in security funding did reduce aid for some other types of airport capital projects in 2002. The biggest decline was in projects to bring airports up to Federal Aviation Administration design criteria in areas such as runways, taxiways and aprons. That category fell by 16%, to $812 million.

But according to GAO, officials at the FAA said many AIP priorities were fully funded, including safety-related projects, noise mitigation, items earmarked by members of Congress and the 10 runway projects under way at large airports.

The impact of the shift to security projects was eased by the use of $439 million in funds carried over to 2002 from previous years, GAO said.

The 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, changed the mix of projects eligible for AIP money. That law added things like blast-proofing for terminals and glass, security lighting, cameras and guard dogs. But it also deleted eligibility for other items, notably baggage-screening machines.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) said that while his panel "is pleased that security needs have been met without compromising safety, we remain concerned that future safety and capacity needs of the aviation system not be shortchanged in the drive to improve aviation security."

Young said providing enough money for security and for capacity-adding airport projects will be a focus of next year's debate over reauthorizing aviation programs. Young and the committee's top Democrat, James Oberstar of Minnesota, requested the GAO study.