The Trump administration has awarded several community airports across the state the first allotment of nearly $4.5 million in federal grants for 2019 to fund and upgrade taxiways, terminals and other airfield infrastructure improvements nationwide.
Last week, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao first announced that the department’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award $840 million in airport infrastructure grants to hundreds of airports across the country. The funding is the first of $3.18 billion in so-called Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding from the FAA for fiscal year 2019, which runs from Oct. 1, 2018 to September 30 of this year.
“This significant investment in airport improvements will fund construction and rehabilitation projects that will help maintain high levels of safety in U.S. aviation,” Chao said in a June 5 news release announcing the 2019 AIP grants.
The 432 grants will fund infrastructure development at 381 airports around the country, including selected runway reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, construction of firefighting facilities, and the maintenance of taxiways, aprons and terminals. The construction and equipment supported by this funding will also increase the airports’ safety and emergency response capabilities, and could support further economic growth and development within each airport’s region, DOT officials said.
In Arkansas, grants were awarded to the cities of Arkadelphia, Blytheville, Hot Springs, Pocahontas and Walnut Ridge for taxiway extensions and runway upgrades. Altogether, those communities will receive nearly $4.5 million in one-time and discretionary AIP grants, with Arkadelphia’s city-owned Dexter B. Florence Memorial Field receiving the lion’s share of the federal funding for the Arkansas upgrades.
The Clark County general aviation airport is located one mile south of Arkadelphia’s downtown business district and is served by a full-length taxiway and a 5,000-foot airstrip, known locally as Runway 4-22. The South Arkansas airport’s first AIP allotment amounts to $427,391 to rehab Runway 4-22, while the city-owned airport was also awarded an addition $2.25 million in discretionary funding for further upgrades.
Stephen Bell, president and CEO of Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, said the city-owned airport has long needed upgrades due to its location in a boggy lowland that is often flooded. He said the airport has also operated for several years without an airport manager until Michell Anthony was hired away from her similar role at the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport in Lawrence County.
Bell said the city airport has also recently upgraded its hangar facility and operates classes for the Henderson State University Aviation program, the only college program in Arkansas that offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree. According to the Henderson State website, that program is curriculum to prepare students for jobs a professional pilot or a management position in the state’s fast-growing aviation and aerospace industry.
“Especially with the Henderson State program and economic development, this airport is very important to Arkadelphia and the surrounding community,” said Bell. Anthony, who was attending an FAA conference in Ft. Worth on Tuesday, was not available for comment for this story.
Besides Arkadelphia, the city of Walnut Ridge and the Blytheville Municipal Airport will also receive grants of $448,311 and $779,437, respectively, to upgrade runways at those two airstrips in Northeast Arkansas. The Memorial Field in Hot Springs will also get a one-time allotment of $150,000 to rehab that city-owned and operated airport’s runway, while the Pocahontas Municipal airport was awarded more than $376,000 to extend that city’s airfield’s taxiway.
According to the state Department of Aeronautics (ADA), which administers the state’s Airport Aid program, there are 92 publicly-owned and public-use airports eligible for local, state and federal funding on a reimbursable matching basis. Every state airport has at one time or another participated in the FAA’s federal grant program, officials said.
Under Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s reorganization plan approved by the legislature in the recent 2019 regular session, which will reduce 42 states agencies down to 15 cabinet-level departments, ADA will become part of the state Department of Commerce led by state Economic Development Executive Director Mike Preston. That transition will begin in fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1.
Nationwide, there are 3,332 airports and 5,000 paved runways across the U.S. that participate in the federal AIP grant program. According to the FAA’s most recent economic analysis, U.S. civil aviation accounts for $1.6 trillion in total economic activity and supports nearly 11 million jobs. Airports can receive a certain amount of AIP entitlement funding each year based on activity levels and project needs.
If their capital project needs exceed their available entitlement funds, the FAA can supplement their entitlements with discretionary funding, DOT officials said, such as the $2.2 million received by the Arkadelphia airport. In March 2018, President Donald Trump signed off the 2018 appropriations act, which included an additional $1 billion in discretionary grants through the FAA’s AIP program.