XNA waits for federal funding on runway project

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 117 views 

It’s a game of “wait and see” for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport as officials hope for news on several fronts, with the biggest being a federal funding bill expected to be voted on next week.

Other issues include potential effects from American Airline’s ongoing struggles, and other airport construction.

The U.S. Senate is expected to act as early as Monday on a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill, said Sara Lasure, communications director for U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

“The (bill) authorizes $63.4 billion for the (FAA) for four years, through fiscal year 2015, and extends certain program authorities and aviation taxes on fuel and tickets in addition to several other programs,” she said.

If passed, it will be the first multi-year funding bill since 2007. In the last four years, there have been nearly two dozen short-term funding bills passed to continue funding the FAA.

The funding bill passing will pave the way for XNA to seek bids on a runway resurfacing project that could start as early as this summer, Airport Director Kelly Johnson said.

Once the bids are received this March or April, XNA can apply for the grant on May 1. This will be the second of three $10 million grants. The first $10 million grant was received and is being held for engineering costs related to renovating and repairing drainage along the runway. The airport is waiting for construction season before beginning the project to limit weather delays, Johnson said.

The runway’s condition will be a major factor in bid amounts because it is still unclear how deep the damage goes into the concrete, Johnson said. Some of the test samples have come back saying that the damage goes deep but samples from other spots paint a bright picture.

“We will reuse what (concrete) we can to save money where we can,” Johnson said.

The alternate runway completed last year will become “taxiway alpha” once renovations begin, Johnson said. The 8,800-foot long runway will slightly increase taxi time but airport officials don’t foresee lengthy passenger delays.

The third $10 million grant will be sought at a later time and will be used to continue paving and lighting improvements at the airport.

As American Airlines continues to make financial restructuring decisions after announcing bankruptcy last November, it is unclear if XNA will be affected. Initially, it appeared that XNA would not be affected but that could change as the restructuring continues.

American Airlines is the largest carrier at the airport, generating about 35% of XNA’s flight traffic. If American Airlines reduces its overall number of flights, there is a chance XNA could be affected. As of now, it does not appear that XNA’s large overnight maintenance operation for American Eagle will be affected. This maintenance operation employs about 100 people.

Construction on a new sit-down restaurant in the new XNA concourse is progressing, Johnson said. It will have a full bar, sit-down eating space and a finish chef where people can watch their food being prepared.

“It’s going to be a neat space, the public will really enjoy it,” Johnson said.

Other stores have opened in the airport in recent months, she said. Once the new restaurant opens airport officials will wait a few months to determine if the small coffee shop on the upper level of the airport is still necessary.

Another upcoming construction project will be toward the end of the year when the United/Continental merger has progressed. The airlines will move their gates upstairs and the existing space will be renovated with a shortened walkway, new carpet and countertops.