Friday, February 10, 2012

FAA bill likely to help Friedman

Airport: Full impact still uncertain

Express Staff Writer

Friedman Memorial Airport officials are saying that a federal funding bill for the FAA could help improve the airport. Photo by Mountain Express

A multi-year congressional funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration may be good news for the FAA, but local airport officials say it's too early to tell how most of the bill's provisions will affect Friedman Memorial Airport.

"A multi-year reauthorization is a good thing for all airports," said Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird. "It's just going to take time to sort out all of the language in the bill and decide how it will impact us."

The bill, which is awaiting the president's signature, authorizes $63 billion for the administration through the 2015 budget year. The agency has not received a multi-year authorization of its budget since 2007, and has only managed to continue operating under a series of 23 temporary funding extensions.

Perhaps the most lauded part of the bill is its funding authority for the agency's Next Generation air traffic modernization program, at about $1 billion per year.

That program could increase reliability at Friedman, as Airport Authority board members and consultants have considered that a specific GPS-based approach known as RNP (Required Navigation Procedures) could reduce the number of incoming flights diverted or cancelled because of lack of visibility.

Baird said the airport already has an RNP approach, but no pilots have used it in the three years since it was developed.

"I'm not sure a new RNP approach here is a solution," he said, but added, "If [Airport Authority members] choose to explore RNP as a way to increase reliability, [the bill] could help us out."

He said pilots may be more willing to use an amended RNP approach, which could reduce the minimum approach height.

A minor cut in terms of agency funding may have a big effect on the local airport.

The bill cuts Airport Improvement Program grants from 95 percent of project costs to 90 percent.

The grants go toward buying land and enhancing safety and capital improvements—grants that Friedman has taken advantage of in the past.

"It may cost us more for some projects [under the new legislation]," Baird said.

Final decisions on how airports can take advantage of new funding are up to the agency, Baird said.

"We have to wait for input and guidance on this," he said. "[But] it looks like most of the information is good for this airport."

Katherine Wutz:

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