North Dakota’s aeronautics director Larry Taborsky (shown at right) and state airport planner Kyle Wanner visited Washington DC last week to visit with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Associate Administrator for Airports Christa Fornarotto about AIP funds.  The meeting was arranged and attended by Senator John Hoeven (R).  The meeting was also attended by senate staffers, including those of Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) and Representative Kevin Cramer (R).  

Due to North Dakota’s recent oil boom, it is now the number two oil producing state in the nation which has recently caused an exponential growth in both commercial and business aviation resulting in enormous pressure on the state’s airport infrastructure.  For instance, the Minot International Airport has seen an increase in passenger enplanements of 236 percent since 2009 and the passenger terminal is currently operating at three times its design capacity.  Indications are that the current oil exploration and drilling will also be responsible for longer-term population growth with the construction of pipelines, terminals, refineries and fertilizer plants.  As a result, the airports and their terminals must be expanded. 

While the state legislature has already allocated additional airport funding, Taborsky and Wanner brought the state’s request for FAA AIP discretionary funding for three extremely high priority projects directly to Administrator Huerta.  Unfortunately, the FAA is facing a short-fall in 2013 AIP funds because congress has raided AIP carryover funds to pay $253 million for maintaining Contract Towers and eliminating employee furloughs.  All of this is due to the sequestration law passed by congress. 

Huerta said he fully understood the situation and according to Taborsky and Wanner, he thanked the two for their comprehensive presentation of the infrastructure needs in North Dakota but the present challenge is that the first $253 million of the discretionary AIP budget has to go to the air traffic controllers, and the additional discretionary money that could be utilized on high priority airport projects won’t be identified until the states begin to turn back unused entitlement funds.  Taborsky said that Huerta held out some hope that there may me some additional funds available for North Dakota’s priorities later this fiscal year… but that it may be too late for the state’s short construction season.

While the final outcome was disappointing for North Dakota, the meeting was apparently very cordial and informative with all participants pledging to continue to search for a solution to the funding and timing problems identified.

For more than a year now, the headlines out of North Dakota have proclaimed rising passenger boardings.  The state’s eight large airports in May were up more than 10 percent over the year, however, the biggest impact continues to be the heart of the booming western oil patch. According to the state Aeronautics Commission, Williston once again led the way with a 161 percent increase, or nearly 5,000 more passengers than in May 2012.

Meanwhile, Taborsky hopes airports turn back unused AIP funds. “According to [Administrator]Huerta and Christa [Fornoratto], this seems to be the only chance for discretionary funds to be used in a timely manner,” said Taborsky. “Those states without a construction season may see no point, but if they have no need for the funds in a given year, it would surely be appreciated.”