Airports will need an estimated $39.5 billion over the next five years to meet aviation requirements, the Federal Aviation Administration says. The total, contained in FAA's latest update of its National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, represents a decline of nearly 15%, or $6.6 billion, from the previous version, which was released in 2002.

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The new report, sent to Congress on Sept. 30, covers 2005 through 2009, but its needs estimate only refers to improvements that are eligible for federal Airport Improvement Program grants. Some types of airport infrastructure work cannot be funded through AIP aid. Ineligible projects include parking garages; hangars; air cargo facilities; and revenue-generating terminal areas, such as stores and restaurants. Of FAA's $39.5-billion needs estimate, the largest amount, $14.1 billion, is for runway work and other improvements to bring airports up to the agency's recommended design criteria, for example, to provide the clearances needed to accommodate the wingspans of today's aircraft.

Other categories include: $7.5 billion for capacity improvements; $6.2 billion for terminal work; $5.1 billion for reconstruction, mainly for pavement and lighting systems; $1.9 billion for highway and transit access to airports; $1.3 billion for safety-related projects; $831 million for new "reliever" and general aviation airports; and $717 million for security.

The report also says that 2003 data show 80% of the runways at commercial-service airports were in good condition and 18% in fair condition. That compares with 78% good and 15% fair in 1986.

Noting that the FAA study doesn't look at all airport capital requirements, the Airports Council International-North America says it is preparing a broader-gauge survey of its members. It will include projects beyond those eligible for AIP grants.