The Maryland Aviation Administration failed for nearly a decade to comply with federal noise compatibility requirements, barring the state from recuperating $4.6 million in sound insulation costs — and instead passing those costs onto airlines and passengers, according to a state audit released Monday.
The administration, which operates Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Martin State Airport in Middle River, had $12.4 million in untouched federal money available as of September 2015 for residential sound insulation projects and for the acquisition of properties in areas affected by significant airplane noise, the audit said.
The Federal Aviation Administration reimburses 80 percent of the costs of eligible projects, but the MAA told auditors it had such difficulty complying with the federal reimbursement requirements that it suspended its noise compatibility program in 2012. The state spent $5.7 million on the program between 2003 and 2012.
The administration said more than half of the $4.6 million couldn't have been recuperated, either because the work was performed outside federally designated areas or the state could not properly document the work.
The MAA requested the rest — $1.9 million — but was denied in October 2015 because the state did not perform required pre-construction and post-construction noise-level testing of residential properties.
The costs were recovered instead from airline landing fees, the audit said.
"[R]ather than requiring the airlines to absorb these costs, MAA should be more diligent in complying with program requirements which would allow it to use the federal funding available," the auditors wrote.
The $12.4 million remains in an escrow account established in 2008 when the FAA changed its noise compatibility program and required the state to sell excess land bought with federal funds and put the money into the account for the noise compatibility program, the audit said.
The audit also noted that the MAA did not always competitively procure vehicle and equipment maintenance services or use available state contracts, and had record-keeping deficiencies.
In its response, the MAA said it had been "diligent in complying with noise program requirements which would allow it to use federal funding" but was unable to collect it.
"There were numerous correspondences between MAA and FAA since 2012 which demonstrated MAA's efforts in complying with noise program requirements," the state wrote. "However, as MAA was not able to collect reimbursement for noise expenditures from federal sources, it collected this cost from the airlines."
The state said it is awaiting new guidelines from the FAA that will govern sound insulation programs and requirements to obtain money for them, and will develop new procedures once the federal guidelines are published.