The Furlough…How did it play in Peoria? Pretty poorly! The recent FAA shutdown places new emphasis on the need for stable funding for the FAA over a multi-year period. Only with stable funding can disruptions be avoided and planning be accomplished for the capital development of our nation’s air transportation system, from the major hubs right down to the regional airports.
Peoria felt the impact of the shutdown even before it happened. When the political climate a week before the shutdown looked like a deal would not be reached in time, the first casualty Peoria felt was an interruption of a site selection study for a new air traffic control tower. Peoria just opened a new terminal building in April, and the old terminal stands in the way of full use of the new building. The old terminal houses the air traffic control tower, and the building is 52 years old and in bad shape. We can’t fully demolish the old building until a new tower is constructed. The old building is costing the airport authority money, with an estimated one third of the airport’s total electrical usage still consumed by the mostly vacated old terminal.
The site selection process for developing a new tower is a three step process. This process is conducted at the Airways Facilities Tower Integration Lab (AFTIL) at the FAA Tech Center in Atlantic City, NJ. The first step is a week-long visit to the AFTIL, using a digital model of the airport to select three or four potential sites (we looked at fourteen and narrowed it to four). The second step is an analysis by FAA engineers of the feasible sites, which can take about 6 months, and then determine the estimated cost at each site. The final step is a second visit to the AFTIL, which for Peoria was scheduled to take place July 25 – 29. This visit was cancelled the week prior to the shutdown, because it looked certain that the AFTIL staff would be furloughed. The estimate at the time of cancellation was that rescheduling would probably not be possible before September.
The FAA shutdown also impacted the Airport Authority’s project to partially demolish the old terminal and renovate the HVAC systems still supporting the FAA tower operation. We had hoped to take bids to do this work on September 1, after review by FAA staffers in late July or early August. The furlough has pushed this back to the end of August, because there was no one working at the FAA to review the plans. This has pushed back our ability to start the project until October, which means that the HVAC renovations will take place during the heating season instead of during milder weather.
An additional impact was felt on PIA’s planned project to rehabilitate the approach ends of Runways 13 and 4, scheduled for FY 2011. Due to the furlough, no FAA employees were at work in the Chicago Airports District Office to process grant paperwork or to issue new grants. The impact of the shutdown on this project has put finances in question and will likely delay the start of construction until next year.
Even projects that were not funded by FAA were impacted by the shutdown. The Air National Guard has had a presence on the Peoria International Airport since just after World War II. One older portion of the old base had an area contaminated with petroleum products and the ANG has funded a project to remove contaminated soil and replace it with clean fill. Just before the shutdown, the Guard contacted the Airport Authority about a new, more efficient way to bring trucks on and off the site. This new routing was not in the original plans and might require a new airspace determination from the ADO. Since there was no one at work to ask the question, the contractor has had to delay the start of earthmoving. This delay may push the project into next year, with uncertain consequences.
Even a shutdown of only two weeks has had a very significant negative impact on the Peoria International Airport, costing us significant local dollars that won’t be replaced by any grants. My hat is off to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for his constant drumbeat of support for getting Congress to extend the FAA’s authorization, and his support of long term FAA funding. Only with stability and assured multi-year funding mechanisms will our industry be able to resume planning for capital development programs and financing.