FAA bill signing means more predictable funding

For Skyhaven Airport in Rochester

ROCHESTER — Skyhaven Airport can expect more predictable government funding for the next several years, as the bill to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding was signed by President Obama last week.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act will provide more than $63 billion in FAA funding over the next four years. About $3.35 billion is expected to be contributed annually for infrastructure improvements in airports nationwide.

“This is critical legislation to support aviation and to provide job opportunities for New Hampshire citizens,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act is the first long-term measure to fund the FAA in years, and comes after 23 short-term funding extensions over the past five years. Last summer, lawmakers missed the July deadline to extend FAA funding, leading to a temporary shutdown that stalled hundreds of airport construction projects nationwide.

“It was fortunate it happened in between projects we were working on,” said the city’s Planning and Development Director Kenn Ortmann, who sits on the Skyhaven Airport Advisory Council.

The four-year reauthorization is expected to benefit 12 New Hampshire airports in providing funding to support safety and capacity improvements.

When it comes to Skyhaven Airport, although it will be eligible for less federal funding than previously, the bill provides for longer term planning for capital improvement projects.

Infrastructure projects at Skyhaven Airport will be eligible for 90 percent in federal funding, as opposed to the previous 95 percent.

“We have some predictability in regard to funding,” said Skyhaven Airport Manager Bill Hopper. In recent years, he said, “We were going month to month wondering if FAA is going to have funding.”

With the new bill, the airport is more likely to see FAA funding to rehabilitate one of its runways. According to the airport’s master plan, the design for the new runway is expected to be completed this year, at a cost of $380,000, and construction is scheduled for 2013, at a cost of $1.8 million.

Although 90 percent of the project could be funded by the FAA, it is still uncertain when the funding will become available for the project. Because rehabilitating the runway is a high-cost project, discretionary funding, distributed nationwide on a priority basis, will be needed; the $150,000 in annual entitlement money the airport receives will not be enough to cover the cost.

“We feel confident that we have a project that is competitive,” said Ortmann.

Hopper agreed, saying that because the condition of the runway affects safety of airplanes and its passengers, it is likely the project will be seen as a priority.

“Safety is paramount,” he said. “Skyhaven definitely needs runway rehabilitation.”

In addition to making it easier for airports to plan infrastructure projects for the next several years, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act will support the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen. The system will replace the current radar system used by air traffic controllers with GPS, using satellites to track aircraft.

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