Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport to get $26 million for taxiway (Photo courtesy of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has made multi-year commitments to help finance airport construction projects in Atlanta and Myrtle Beach, S.C. DOT Secretary Norman Mineta said Feb. 28 that his department had signed letters of intent to provide $26 million over five years for an "end around" taxiway at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and $43 million over eight years towards an apron and new taxiways at Myrtle Beach International to support a planned new terminal.

A week earlier, DOT announced a similar, but larger pledge--$200 million over 11 years to Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia for a new, fourth runway. That project's total cost is estimated at $356 million.

Mineta's made the funding announcements at the Federal Aviation Administration's annual forecast conference in Washington. FAA is projecting that domestic passenger volume on U.S. commercial air carriers will slip by 1.1 million, to 668.7 million, and then show annual increases through 2017.

When U.S. airlines' international enplanements are added, 2006's total passenger traffic is expected to rise by 2 million, to 740.6 million, and exceed 1 billion in fiscal 2015, FAA says. FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said, "Aviation is in a period of real growth with a temporary pause here in '06."

Blakey also told conference attendees that DOT's proposal to alter how the Airport and Airway Trust Fund is financed is now at the Office of Management and Budget for review. The trust fund is the source for FAA's Airport Improvement Program construction grants, which go for infrastructure projects such as those planned at Atlanta, Myrtle Beach and Dulles.

A key component of the aviation trust fund is revenue from a passenger ticket tax, but Blakey said, "There's no connection between the price of a commercial airline ticket and the FAA's workload."

Treasury Dept. estimates accompanying the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget proposal in early February showed the aviation fund's uncommitted balance would dip to $1.7 billion at the end of 2006, a $200-million decrease from last year.

DOT officials have said they're seeking a revenue system that provides a better match between aviation users' fees and the cost those users impose on the system. But Mineta and Blakey provided no details about what DOT's new trust fund plan might contain.