Recent FAA impasse may force delay in Wyoming airport construction
By JOAN BARRON
| Posted: Monday, August 15, 2011 12:05 am
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Aeronautics Commission may have to push back airport construction projects until next year because of the recent delay in the extension of the Federal Aviation Administration budget, state officials say.
President Barack Obama approved an FAA budget extension Friday, meaning nearly 4,000 furloughed FAA employees can return to work as soon as Monday.
Work can also resume on more than 200 airport construction projects around the country.
The Wyoming Aeronautics Commission will review the state’s airport construction program during a teleconference Tuesday and will vote on any changes at its September meeting.
Some of the projects that have already started don’t appear to be in jeopardy, said Christy Jaffa, airport planning and building manager for the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission.
The projects that have been bid but haven’t started, however, may get postponed until next year.
It was a bad time to have a delay in federal airport construction financing, she said.
“With our short construction season, there are some of them that will have to be delayed until next year,” Jaffa said Friday.
Jaffa said commission staff are working with airport sponsors on those projects.
“Our understanding right now is the airports will get the money they were supposed to get,” she added.
The recent congressional impasse over the FAA budget left hundreds of airport construction projects in limbo and idled tens of thousands of construction industry workers, as well as nearly 4,000 FAA employees.
According to published reports, Wyoming airports stood to lose about $15 million in federal funding if the budget extension hadn’t been approved.
The state’s aviation capital improvement program for 2011 includes $25 million in federal funds.
Some of those projects have received federal money and have moved ahead.
Major projects on this year’s approved list include $5 million for the first phase of construction of a de-icing facility and $1.2 million for the fourth phase of a terminal rehabilitation project for the Jackson airport.
Sheridan has an approved rehabilitation and upgrade project with $3 million in federal dollars.
Vincenzo Tomassi, of Diamondville, chairman of the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission, said Friday he didn’t know the details or length of the FAA budget extension.
“Our wonderful Congress did their job so well,” he said sarcastically.
Nevertheless, he said, Wyoming should get essential safety projects finished this year, such as a component of the Jackson project.
It entails installation of a safety area at the end of the runway for planes that overshoot the runway.
“It’s a huge safety issue,” Tomassi said. “I’m pretty sure it will get done.”
Democrats had opposed House legislation on FAA operations because the House proposed cutting air service subsidies to 13 rural communities.
The Democrats finally relented. Although the Republicans achieved the subsidy cuts in the final law, it gives Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the authority to continue subsidized service to the 13 communities if he decides it’s necessary.
One of the 13 communities that receive the Essential Air Service subsidy is Ely, Nev.
An Associated Press report said pilots with Great Lakes Airlines sometimes fly a twin-engine Beechcraft 1900 from Ely to Las Vegas with no passengers aboard just to collect the federal dollars.
The report said that in 2010, only 227 passengers flew out of Ely while the airline received $1.8 million in federal subsidies.
The subsidies go to about a dozen airlines, but in 2010 almost one-third of the entire budget — $67.8 million — went to Great Lakes, which is based in Cheyenne. The company did not respond to Associated Press and Star-Tribune requests for comment.
Great Lakes provides several flights per day between Cheyenne and Denver International Airport.
The only airports in Wyoming that receive Essential Air Service subsidies are at Worland and Laramie.
Neither airport is on the subsidies “chopping block,” Jaffa said.
She estimated the two airports receive a total of about $3 million a year in federal subsidies.
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