FAA could slash improvement funding for airport

Hurricane Katrina just hit Douglas County.

A request for $1.3 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants for improvements at Minden-Tahoe Airport could be cut to $545,000, due in part to last year's New Orleans disaster, said Airport Manager Jim Braswell.

"Katrina and some other issues created shortfalls in the FAA's budget," he said.

Braswell said he doesn't expect to get the final word until late March, but the remaining funding would be directed toward development of the airport's master plan and underground utilities at the end of the runway off Heybourne Road.

"That won't be confirmed until the FAA actually says 'this is your grant offer,' and they ask if Douglas County is willing to accept it," he said.

A critical source of airport improvement funding, these grants have totalled more than $17.5 million at Minden-Tahoe Airport since the mid-1980s.

Douglas County tax dollars are not used to finance the county-owned airport, so these grants have been critical to airport improvements, like asphalt for resurfacing and taxiways, Braswell said.

In a letter to Sen. Harry Reid, (D-Nev.) and representatives Jim Gibbons (R-Nev) and John Ensign (R-Nev.), the Airport's Advisory Committee opposed the proposed cuts.

"We need this funding to maintain the airport for general aviation to keep the airport moving forward without being a burden to taxpayers," said Advisory Committee member Ed Court. "The airport is self-supporting, but we don't make the millions needed to fund many of these projects. That's why the grants are so helpful."

Like the highway, the airport is for everyone, Court said.

According to an article in General Aviation News, general aviation airports are in for a rough time next year if the Bush administration gets its way.

"The White House is proposing to cut nearly $1 billion from the Airport Improvement program in 2007," said Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

When AIP funding drops below $3.2 billion (the administration is proposing $2.75 billion for next year), all "entitlements" for general aviation airports are eliminated. That means almost all of the money would go to big airports, the article states.

"There's more to the system than runways at air carrier airports," Boyer said.

Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta defended the move, saying aviation needs a more stable and predictable revenue stream that creates a more direct relationship between revenues collected and services provided, the article states.

This year's projects at Minden-Tahoe included moving the power lines that pose a safety risk for aircraft at the end of the runway near Heybourne Road, funding for development of the master plan, an automated weather station and a telephone access security gate.

Braswell said he expects the master plan and a portion of the power line project to be funded with the $545,000. Airport officials will be re-applying for another grant to complete the project, which is expected to take a year longer than anticipated.

A $92,000 automated weather observation system pilots used to check weather and landing conditions and a $30,000 telephone access security gate are being temporarily scrapped following the cutback, Braswell said.

"This cut simply winds the clock back," he said.

"The RSAT (Runway Safety Action Team) wanted the gate shut for safety reasons," Braswell said. "That might take a little time."

Federal Aviation Administration officials did not return phone calls before press time.

n Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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