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‘Fair is all we ask:’ Idaho airports see big discrepancies in CARES Act funding

COVID-19 Idaho

Funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will start to flow to local and state governments around the nation.

But a BoiseDev analysis of airport funding in Idaho shows discrepancies in just how much funding airports will get.

Gray Television’s Investigates TV first noticed the data for an in-depth piece.

In Idaho, 31 airports will get stimulus cash from the federal government. Most will see a nominal amount – Nampa, McCall and Cascade all got $30,000 for instance.

But while the major airports around the state got significantly more money, the amounts don’t correlate with airport usage.

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In Idaho, the Boise Airport got the most funding as you might expect. But another, much smaller airport, got nearly the same amount: Friedman Memorial in Hailey, near Sun Valley.

On a per-passenger basis, Boise got the least of Idaho’s major airports, while Friedman got the most.

Boise, Hailey got similar funding

Boise Airport Master Plan
Boise Airport. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

$18.93 million will flow from the feds to the coffers at BOI. $18.48 million will hit the bank account in Hailey.

But the two airports had significantly different passenger traffic.

In 2018, the latest year in which uniform national data is available, people got on a plane out of Boise 1.94 million times. The Hailey airport served just 93,280 departing passengers.

When you divide the funding amount by the number of passengers, the data paints a stark picture.

Boise got $9.74 per passenger – while Hailey received $198.08 for each outbound traveller.

Friedman Memorial’s 2020 budget is $7 million, according to the Idaho Mountain Express. That means federal funding could cover its expenses for more than 2.5 years.

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Boise’s 2020 budget stands at $18.16, meaning the federal cash would cover its expenses for just more than one year.

‘Just fair is all we ask’

Another low-traffic airport that serves Idahoans also got a big windfall: Moscow-Pullman Regional Airport, just over the Washington border. That airport received $18.13 million. It served 66,669 outbound passengers – meaning it got $271.82 for each traveler.

But just to the south, the Lewiston airport, which serves about 8,700 fewer passengers, saw a lot less money: $1.24 million.

Gray TV reporters Jamie Grey (a former Boise journalist) and Lee Zurik talked to Lewiston Airport Board Chairman Gary Peters about the funding discrepancies.

“Just fair is all we ask,” Peters said. “It just needs to be a level playing field. That was the whole point behind the CARES Act, if I understand it correctly, was to allow airports to remain healthy and fund their operations. It wasn’t to give any one airport a windfall.”

Peters told Grey and Zurik that the two small airports compete for passengers. Lewiston’s federal funding could keep the airport going for about a year and a half. But Investigates TV estimates the money Pullman received could sustain it for 22 years.

While the FAA lines out an extensive funding formula, it doesn’t fully explain the discrepancies in Idaho. It lists three factors for commercial service airports. Half the amount comes from the number of enplanements, while 25% comes from debt service and 25% comes from the ratio of reserve funding to debt.

The agency wouldn’t comment to Investigates TV, but the news outlet explains that a funding formula glitch may explain some of the issues around the country.

Data: Major Idaho-serving airports’ CARES funding

CARES funding 2018 enplanementsFunding per pass.
Boise $ 18,930,0391,943,181 $                9.74
Hailey (Sun Valley) $ 18,476,13093,280 $            198.07
Twin Falls $   1,193,73047,084 $              25.35
Pocatello $   1,190,51746,303 $              25.71
Idaho Falls $   2,269,821161,019 $              14.10
Lewiston $   1,238,46857,957 $              21.37
Pullman/Moscow (WA) $ 18,129,79266,699 $            271.82
Source: Federal Aviation Administration data, BoiseDev analysis
Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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