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Airports hope study sends state money their way

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Airport officials across Indiana hope a new study of their economic impact will give them leverage as they try to persuade state lawmakers to help fund their operations.

The new study found the state's 69 tax-funded airports account for nearly 70,000 jobs and more than $14 billion in spending, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The findings come at a crucial time for airports. Starting this year, the federal government has reduced the portion of airport capital projects that are paid for with federal money to 90 percent from 95 percent.

That means the amount airports and state government pay for projects will double.

"As we go into a budget year, we want to make sure the Legislature understands the importance of airports," said Bart Giesler, executive director of the Aviation Association of Indiana, which co-sponsored the study with Conexus Indiana.

The state gives airports about $1.2 million for capital projects each year, but while that's a relatively low number, it helps bring in federal money, Giesler said. The state gets about $70 million in federal money for federal projects annually.

"If you can't match, you lose the federal money. I want to keep those dollars here," he said.

Andi Montgomery, owner of Montgomery Aviation, which operates Indianapolis Executive Airport, Frankfort Municipal and Grissom Aeroplex, said the projects aren't "whimsical things."

"They're for infrastructure, they're ramps, runways, instrument landing systems," Montgomery said.

She said activity at the state's airports is slowly improving after falling off during the recession, and the facilities need funding for new projects to keep up with the growth.

For example, Indianapolis Executive in Zionsville wants to extend its runway from 5,500 to 7,500 feet, while Frankfort Municipal wants to buy instrument landing equipment.

Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University's Bureau of Business Research, questioned whether many of the small airports around the state can claim to be responsible for the jobs cited in the survey, saying that most Indiana airports are a net loss for their communities.

"It's hard to imagine a business not locating in Madison County or Delaware County if there wasn't an airport, because you could be at Indianapolis International in 50 minutes," he said.

David Holt, vice president of Conexus, said airports are underappreciated.

"They're a very, very important part of our infrastructure," he said.

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