The plight of a development project at Brainerd Regional Airport helped inspire U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan to introduce legislation he says will lower costs when airports across the country want to build.
The bill that passed unanimously in the House Thursday night was inspired by incidents business leaders in the Brainerd lakes area recently experienced when they wanted to build a hangar at the airport capable of housing private jets, and were willing to put up $1 million to fund it, Nolan said—but the project hit a snag.
“That’s what became the impetus for my legislation,” Nolan said Tuesday. “They learned that under Federal Aviation Administration regulations and laws, they insist on what they call ‘reimbursable agreements’ that they order, and either the airport or the investors pay for.”
The hangar project called for two 25-foot towers to be moved, but the FAA’s required involvement in the tower-moving plan would cost $500,000.
The developers called Nolan, who sits on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Aviation subcommittee. He found the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s aviation department could do the job for $17-20,000 while still complying with FAA regulations.
Nolan got that number in February, the MnDOT estimate has since gone up to $150,000 as of last week.
Nolan introduced an amendment to Congress’ FAA reauthorization bill that would allow state agencies like MnDOT rather than the FAA to do projects in airports. That sparked a back-and-forth with the FAA, which still wanted oversight studies done on projects although it would cost tens of thousands of dollars more, Nolan said.
The amendment ended up dying anyway after the legislation it was attached to fell victim to a fight between the Senate and House over privatizing air traffic controllers.
So earlier this month, Nolan introduced the language again, but this time as its own bill so it wouldn’t get swept up in larger political fights like his amendment did. On Wednesday evening, it passed after Nolan gave a speech on the floor of the House that included a picture of the towers at the Brainerd airport.
The “Airport Construction and Alteration Reform Act of 2016” tells the FAA it must allow state-level counterparts to do projects instead—without the requirement of an aeronautics study—if the state has “appropriate engineering expertise” to do the project and complies with FAA standards.
“The more you can accommodate private jets flying into a place like Brainerd … the more you’re able to attract investors and business,” Nolan said.