A new bill passed by the U.S. Senate on April 19 incentivizes carriers to continue to provide service in rural areas.
The FAA Reauthorization bill will allow for a reauthorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. The bill means $33.1 billion would be given to the FAA for the different programs, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Darwin Skelton, airport manager at Western Nebraska Regional Airport, said that it would allow for the airport to remain a primary airport.
“As a primary airport, for a project that we need to do that is larger than $1 million it’s easier to get back into the discretionary pool if you need additional funding for projects,” said Skelton.
Skelton said he hopes that PenAir will be able to come in during the latter part of 2016 and there will be an increase in boarding numbers. The airport will then be able to remain as a primary airport.
The FAA Reauthorization Bill would increase authorized spending for the Airport Improvement Program among other things. The Airport Improvement Program allows for airports to conduct projects to improve the airport. Part of the bill important to rural airports was the Small Airport Regulation Relief Act, co-sponsored by Representative Adrian Smith in 2015. This would also allow the boarding numbers recorded in 2012 in order to receive funds for the Airport Improvement. Those airports who reached 10,000 in enplanements would be able to ensure funding through the year of 2018.
Don Overman, chairman of the WNRA Authority Board, said that most of the problems that precipitated what rural airports face today was pilots had to go from 500 hours to 1,500 hours.
“That has decimated the pilot core, the airport has had a tremendous affect on the rural American airports,” said Overman.
The FAA bill has been in reauthorization for the past five to seven years and has been a continuing resolution since that time. Overman said that he gives great praise to Senator Fischer on the Commerce Committee who really helped it get pushed through in the Senate.
“She was a great help to airports all over the country,” said Overman.
In a statement, Fischer said that Nebraska’s rural and small community airports connect Nebraska to the rest of the nation and was proud to advance several provisions that will improve funding for these facilities.
Overman was glad to see the bill won’t penalize small airports. The airport has plans for buildings and other projects in the next three years. The funding will provide $1 million for each year but also provides use of other monetary mechanisms or other spending sources.
The bill will now go on to the House of Representatives, whose version of the bill might lose ground based on the conflict on the privatization of air traffic control operations. It has 90-plus amendments which Overman said might cause it to slow down. If it is passed, it will expire after about 18 months, at the end of fiscal 2017.
At the last Airport Authority Board meeting, the members voted to choose PenAir as the carrier of choice for the Essential Air routes from Scottsbluff to Denver. The next step was to get approval from the Department of Transportation for PenAir to take over the EAS contract. Skelton said that the DOT has written an order and is hoping that it will get approved during the first week of May.
“That will authorize PenAir to provide service for us in November,” said Skelton.