Why Saint Clair Wants Congress to Close Its Airport
In a previous post we detailed how one Missouri city, Saint Clair (located in Franklin County), has been trying (and failing) to close its small, money-losing local airport since 2006. The city government believes that the resources and land devoted to the airport would be better spent on commercial property development, not keeping a small general aviation airport with a handful of tenants up and running.
While there is some local support for keeping the airport open among politicians and a particularly vocal tenant, the principal protector of St. Clair Regional Airport is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Because the airport has received federal grants to improve the airport in the past, the ability of the local government to operate (or close) its airport is tightly constrained by FAA grant assurances. As we wrote before:
Two of the more cumbersome assurances for a city like Saint Clair are Nos. 5 and 25. Assurance No. 5 obligates Saint Clair to maintain it as a public airport and not dispose or sell any part of the airport without FAA approval. The FAA will only give approval if Saint Clair can show that closing the airport improves aviation in the area. In addition, the dispensation to sell the airport does not free Saint Clair from reimbursing the federal government all recent federal grants. This will cost the city more than $750,000.
The city’s back-and-forth negotiations with the FAA have failed to produce results.
In an attempt to accelerate the process, Senator Claire McCaskill introduced a bill (S.2759) that would specifically close St. Clair Regional Airport. That bill passed the Senate on December 3, and if it passes the House and receives the president’s signature, the FAA would have to allow the airport’s closure.
You read that last paragraph right. Getting a bill through the U.S. Congress is considered a shortcut to closing a general aviation airport owned by a Missouri city with less than 5,000 residents. That is the kind of intransigence and red trap cities encounter when they, by taking what looks like free money, accept the oversight of federal bureaucracies over local infrastructure. If other local governments want to avoid Saint Clair’s headaches, they should support the development of private airports and local user-funding sources whenever possible.