A USA TODAY investigation finds the federal Airport Improvement Program has funneled some $18 billion in tax money to general aviation airports over its 28-year history. Critics such as Jonathan Ornstein, CEO of Mesa Air Group, call the program "a complete waste of money ... There is a huge requirement to overhaul infrastructure at major airports." The Air Transport Association points out that AIP funds come from federal taxes on airline tickets, so airlines are helping to foot the bill for airports they never use. But general aviation supporters, including Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., say smaller airports are a vital engine of economic growth and therefore worthy of federal help. "They're an economic marketing tool for the business community to show that they're accessible," he says.

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