Skyhaven to benefit under new FAA funding bill

Will allow for better planning for improvements at Rochester airport

By DANIELLE CURTIS dcurtis@fosters.com
dcurtis

Thursday, February 9, 2012

ROCHESTER—

Skyhaven Airport, as many others in the country, will likely benefit from a new bill that would fund the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the next four years, leading to upgrades of the nation’s air traffic control system and airport infrastructure.

City Planning Director Kenn Ortmann, who serves on the Skyhaven Airport Advisory Council (SAAC) and flies his own plane out of the airport, said Tuesday the legislation will likely have many positive effects on the Lilac City airport, owned and managed by Pease Development Authority.

The more than $63 million bill passed the House of Representatives last week, and was approved by the Senate Monday night in a 75-20 vote. It will now move on to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it.

The bill comes after years of temporary funding extensions to keep the FAA running, while disputes over spending, labor rules and safety issues were a near constant in Congress. Last summer, the debate caused lawmakers to miss a July deadline to extend funding and resulted in a temporary shutdown that stalled hundreds of airport construction projects across the country.

If signed into law, the bill will provide steady funding to airports for infrastructure and capital improvement projects, as well as support the Next Generation Air Transportation System, called NextGen, which would replace the current radar system used by air traffic controllers with GPS, using satellites to track aircraft.

The bill could, however, negatively affect some small rural airports, by limiting the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes airline service to the airports. The bill would make any airport with fewer than 10 passengers flying out per day ineligible for the funding.

According to Skyhaven Airport Manager Bill Hopper, an employee of Pease Development Authority, Skyhaven and nearly all other New Hampshire airports would not be affected by this portion of the bill, however, as most are located too close to Boston-Logan International Airport to be eligible for the subsidies in the first place.

In fact, Hopper agreed with Ortmann that the new bill will likely bring primarily positive effects to area airports.

“I’d say probably every single airport is going to benefit from that,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve been in limbo for so long in regards to funding that ultimately, it’s a big help to get things moving again.”

Ortmann agreed, and said it is the consistent funding the bill will provide to Skyhaven that will be largest benefit, allowing for better planning for improvements at the airport.

“It’s difficult to run operations without some idea of what the big picture is and what plans are for going forward,” he said Tuesday. “So many airports need infrastructure improvements … but if all you have is continual extensions, it’s difficult to plan for the major projects.”

Ortmann said Skyhaven lucked out last summer and, unlike some local airports, was not in the middle of any major construction project during the temporary FAA shutdown. Still, he said he was pleased to see a long-term funding plan approved for the administration.

“It gives us a blueprint or plan of action for the future,” he said.

Ortmann said the SAAC created a master plan for the airport a number of years ago, updated in 2010, and that while some of the projects have already been completed or may not be eligible for federal funding, some of those proposed for the next couple years will be made easier thanks to the new legislation.

“The ability to plan for improvements is one of the bigger benefits,” he said.

One of these projects is the rehabilitation of one of the runways, which would include resurfacing and repaving of the area.

The design for this project will be done this year, according to the master plan, 95 percent of which — or about $361,000 — could be paid for by the FAA. The actual construction of this project, which is estimated to cost about $1.8 million, $1.7 million of which could be funded by the FAA, is scheduled for completion in 2013.

Another project slated for the next couple years, Ortmann said, that would be eligible for FAA funding under the new bill, is the installation of new, brighter lights on one of the airport’s runways.

This project, slated for 2014 in the master plan, would cost about $80,000, $76,000 of which could be paid for by the FAA.

According to Ortmann, the project would help to make the airport more usable, by working toward decreasing the visibility minimums required for aircraft landing at the airport.

Ortmann said there are certain procedures and requirements a pilot must meet before landing at an airport to ensure the safety of passengers and those on the ground. These requirements include the minimum visibility levels a pilot must have before landing.

For example, pilots flying into Skyhaven, he said, have to be able to see the ground from about 600 to 700 feet and have one mile of visibility ahead of them in order to land. Larger airports, with longer and wider runways and more advanced radar technology — Skyhaven Airport has no control tower and qualifies as uncontrolled air space — have less restrictive minimums, he said.

The new lighting system, however, would help decrease that distance to three-quarters of a mile, making it easier for pilots to land at night and on days with poor weather.

According to the master plan, this decrease would provide operational benefits to aircraft operators and potentially increase the number of aircraft that land at Skyhaven.

While Ortmann said the legislation will be a big help to Skyhaven and other airports and airlines around the country, how the legislation would effect two aerospace manufacturers located near the Lilac City airport has yet to be determined.

Albany Engineered Composites, located in the city since 2010, recently partnered with Safran USA, a global leader in aerospace, defense and security, to build a new 275,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing plan in the city’s Granite State Business park, located adjacent to Skyhaven Airport.

While the companies manufacture advanced composite engine parts for LEAP engines, used to power aircraft such as the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo, spokesmen for the companies said Wednesday they have not yet reviewed the bill in its entirety, it does not appear as though the bill will affect their business.

Safran spokeswoman Michelle Lyle also said the proximity to Skyhaven Airport was not part of the draw to the Lilac City for the company.

Still, Ortmann said that while the bill may not affect Albany and Safran directly, he said many of the goals of the bill tie into the goal of the two companies — to make airplanes safer and more efficient.

“They clearly complement each other,” Ortmann said of the bills and the companies. “If you have an airline that cannot only fly better due to technology and also have engines that can operate more efficiently, that’s not only good from an economic standpoint, but from an environmental standpoint.”

If signed into law by Obama, the funding bill will take effect in September of this year.

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