Aug 24, 2021 - Economy

First look: FAA's new grants would electrify airports

Illustration of a luggage conveyor belt with a lightning bolt among the suitcases

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The FAA is announcing $20.4 million in grants to airports for using zero-emissions vehicles and electrifying equipment that currently relies on fossil fuels.

Why it matters: While next-wave, future aviation/aircraft tech gets lots of attention, nuts and bolts equipment at airports is decidedly low-tech (think diesel generators and dirty shuttle buses) and ripe for the deployment of existing and mature low-emissions systems.

Driving the news: The funding announcement Tuesday, provided first to Axios, is part of $300 million being spent on zero-emissions and electrification projects out of the FAA’s $3.5 billion airport grant program for 2021, an FAA spokesperson told Axios via email.

The big picture: Modern airports, at least in the U.S., still use antiquated technology to service aircraft and move people and luggage around.

  • Airports are sizable sources of smog-forming emissions and greenhouse gases, and also have environmental justice implications.

Details: Per FAA, this year the administration has awarded grants to 56 airports to purchase zero-emission vehicles and for electrification projects, using money from the American Rescue Plan and preexisting grant programs.

By the numbers: Within the round announced today is $5.9 million for zero-emission vehicle purchases, which includes:

  • $3.9 million for the purchase of a fleet of five 35-foot electric shuttle buses at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
  • $1 million for a 35-foot electric shuttle bus and charging station at John Wayne Airport, Orange County in California.

Today’s grants also include $14.5 million to reduce airport and ramp equipment emissions, such as:

  • $4.6 million to purchase and install 18 pre-conditioned air units at Pittsburgh International Airport. These are used to provide temperature-controlled air inside a plane when the plane’s own power systems are off.
  • $3.9 million will go to San Diego International Airport to buy and install 39 charging stations to charge up electric ground support equipment that service aircraft in between their flights.

Funds will also help airports purchase electric mobile ground power units that help run a plane’s electrical equipment.

  • Money for these will go to Fort Wayne International Airport in Indiana, Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif., and St. Louis Lambert International Airport, among others.

Yes, but: Focusing grant programs on zero-emissions technologies and rewiring airport infrastructure could pay off by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and smog-forming pollutants, but it will take a lot more money on a faster timeline to make a difference when viewed across the growing aviation sector.

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