by Dave Weiman
LANSING, MICH. – A sell-out crowd at the Michigan Airport Conference, February 16-17, 2011 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in Lansing, Michigan, listened intensively as Michigan Aeronautics, Michigan Department of Transportation, and Federal Aviation Administration officials discussed future airport funding initiatives, and what airports need to do to prevent conflicts with tall structures, especially the growing number of “wind turbines.”
The State of Michigan has the same budgetary challenges as most states in the country, and is looking to replace state cuts with alternative funding sources for airport improvement projects.
Aeronautics Airports Division Manager, Rick Hammond, stated that fuel taxes generate most of the revenue for Michigan Aeronautics, followed by aircraft registration fees. Of the 11 states covered by Midwest Flyer Magazine, Michigan has the largest fleet of general aviation aircraft with 8,668, so the message is clear for aircraft owners: Buy more fuel to help support GA airports!
Hammond said that whatever additional funding Michigan Aeronautics gets would have to come from some other state agency. He stated that raising taxes is not an option.
Hammond described a proposal to redistribute $15 million in rents and royalties from oil and gas leases from the Department of Natural Resources to the Michigan Aeronautics Fund.
Additionally, there are two bills currently being introduced in the state legislature that would provide additional funding for airport improvement projects. One bill would take certain sales tax revenue on computer software (approximately $9 million) that is currently going to the Michigan Health Initiative for aids education and testing, and redirect it to the Michigan Aeronautics Fund. The other bill would take a portion of the sales tax on aviation fuel and products (approximately $7 million) and dedicate it also to aeronautics.
If additional revenue is not raised, Hammond is concerned that the state will not have enough money to match federal airport improvement program (AIP) money. Kirk Steudle, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, who was the featured luncheon speaker, shared that concern.
For large and medium primary hub airports, federal grants cover 75 percent of eligible costs (or 80 percent for noise program implementation). For small primary, reliever and general aviation airports, federal grants cover 95 percent of eligible costs. State and local government make up the difference.
Possible changes to the state-matching portion of funding may be to reduce the percentage of state matching dollars, or provide matching dollars for only entitlement projects, or for only certain types of projects.
Steudle said, “The trick to funding airports is to get people who are not in aviation or who do not fly to relate to the importance of airports. They all drive cars, but they don’t all fly!”
In looking at future budgets, Steudle stated that the State of Michigan needs to determine not only what it can do, but also what it can afford to do. Current reductions and efficiencies include the suspension of air service in certain communities; suspension of the turf runway, marking program; and staff reductions. State-owned VORs may be one of the items eliminated, as they are old, outdated and require a lot of maintenance.
Steudle said that a primary goal of Michigan Aeronautics would be to develop tools to measure the economic impact of its work and aviation in general.
Steudle’s entire department is embarked on reorganizing, focusing on accountability, oversight, efficiency, core functionality or priority setting, customer service, technical advances, and consolidating services. “We need to do things better, faster and cheaper,” said Steudle. The deadline for the department’s reorganization is October 1, 2011, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
John Mayfield, Manager of the Detroit Airports District Office of the FAA, also spoke about budget concerns, but also recognized some of Michigan’s accomplishments in airport improvement.
Mayfield recognized the engineering firm of Mead & Hunt for its environmental project at Southwest Michigan Regional Airport in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
When the airport planned a main runway extension, Sand Creek presented a significant challenge. The 600-foot-long culvert designed for the creek’s relocation caused the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to require “resting pools” for the fish. This requirement led to Mead & Hunt’s innovative design of a meander within a straight arch culvert, as well as re-meandering the creek outside the culvert. The result surprised, pleased and impassioned the agencies and the airport. As a result, Southwest Michigan Regional Airport received the 2010 Airport Environmental Innovation Award from the FAA Great Lakes Region Airports Division.
Linn Smith, Airspace & Airport Zoning Specialist with Michigan Aeronautics, briefed attendees on the increasing number of wind turbine applications, and the importance of airport zoning and airport approach plans to prevent tall structures around airports.
In 1999, there was one (1) application for a wind turbine. In 2010, there were 690 applications. There have been a total of 1,618 applications since 1999.
The height of turbines is also increasing, said Smith. They are nearing 500 feet.
Smith said that airport zoning ordinances could help to control the location of wind turbines near public-use airports. Airspace protection is provided only to those airports, which are licensed as “public-use,” and to those airports, which meet FAA Part 77 requirements. There is also a “Michigan Tall Structure Act,” which provides protection for public-use airports.
Smith noted that there are “no exclusion areas,” just restrictions on “structure height.”
Smith urged airport managers and commissions to be honest with developers. “Never tell a developer that your local ordinance prohibits any tall structures within a 10-mile radius of your airport, because that is not true,” said Smith.
A new private airport association is being formed in Michigan, and one of its concerns may be to address how best to protect private airports from tall structures.
Other conference topics included bringing predictability to snow storms; what airport managers need to know about filming at airports; roundtable discussions on air carrier airports, large general aviation airports, and small general aviation airports; FAA safety management systems; and project management for airport managers.
Michigan Aeronautics and the Michigan Association of Airport Executives (MAAE) cosponsor the Michigan Airport Conference. Jeffrey Nagel is president of MAAE and manager of MBS International Airport in Freeland, Michigan.