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FAA grants could clean up airport emissions

FAA grants could clean up airport emissions


Airports around the nation will receive big chunks of cash for upgrades

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Airplanes sit on the tarmac at Charlotte Douglas International Airport with the city skyline in the background on April 21, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is giving out more than $35 million in grants so that airports in the US can cut down their pollution, the agency announced today. Gas-burning vehicles that shuttle travelers and their luggage around airports and other on-the-ground equipment create emissions that worsen air quality and add to the climate crisis. Electrifying those operations could make travel at least a little more sustainable while the technology to clean up planes’ pollution is still nascent.

$5.9 million will go towards “zero-emission” vehicles

$5.9 million will go towards “zero-emission” vehicles and charging infrastructure. Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina will get the biggest chunk of that change: $3.9 million for five electric shuttle buses. Three other airports in California, Indiana, and Ohio will also get new electric vehicles.

$14.5 million is earmarked for electric ramp equipment that services planes between flights and for systems that keep planes cool and provide power to them when their engines aren’t running. Pittsburgh International Airport, for example, will receive $4.6 million for 18 new units that pump temperature-controlled air into planes when their air conditioning systems are turned off.

Louisville, Kentucky’s Muhammad Ali International Airport will receive a $10.6 million grant for a new geothermal system to heat and cool its terminal building. That system will replace gas-fired boilers, and slash pollution like soot, smog, and carbon monoxide, according to the FAA.

The Biden administration has set a broader goal of making the nation’s power sector carbon-free by 2035. Meeting that goal will be key to gutting climate pollution in the US, which has the second-highest emissions in the world. It will be especially important as the transportation industry turns to electric vehicles to slash emissions, both at airports, and on the roads. Biden announced this month that he wants half of new cars sold in the US to be either hybrid or all-electric by 2030.

Even more cash could flow into airports soon

Some of the FAA’s funding comes from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed in March. Even more cash could flow into airports soon. The bipartisan infrastructure package making its way through Congress includes $25 billion over five years for the nation’s air infrastructure. That bill is supposed to help airports take care of repair and maintenance backlogs and introduce new technology to cut pollution.

Separately, the FAA also announced today that it set aside more than $22 million in grants that are supposed to make airports more accessible for people with disabilities. Wilmington International Airport in North Carolina plans to spend $16.4 million to expand its terminal with more gate seating, retail and restaurant space, and TSA screening areas that are ADA accessible. Fort Wayne International Airport will receive $6.1 million to expand its terminal and buy “hearing loop” technology that sends gate announcements straight to compatible hearing aid devices.