Officials with North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field said the airport could included in a federal program aimed at funding the operations of airport control towers by Oct. 1. The update came during a meeting of the Grayson County Regional Mobility Authority as officials discussed changes ahead of the possible inclusion.
“That is pretty aggressive, but that’s what I am hearing from everybody,” NTRA Airport Manager Bob Torti said Thursday. “If things go well, Oct. 1 should be it, which is three to four months sooner than we thought.”
Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Contract Program, the expenses to man the airport’s control tower would be covered by the FAA. Currently, the county pays more than $200,000 in salaries to staff the tower for 12 hours each operational day.
In April, the airport was formally accepted as a candidate for the program after nearly five years of efforts, including lobbying and support from local representatives, to become a part of the program. This put the airport on a short list for consideration along with eight other airports. Since that time, three of the other airports have gone through the screening process, putting NTRA next in line, Torti said.
As part of the preparation process, Torti said the FAA will conduct an inspection of the premises on Aug. 28 to ensure it is up to standard for the program. In the weeks leading up to the inspection, Torti said airport officials have received a minimum equipment list and have purchased the listed upgrades and plan to install them later this month.
Among the needed upgrades are new sun screens for the tower, fire extinguishers and specialty carpet that is non-static.
“The judge is really happy about his new carpeting, so I am happy about that,” Torti joked, referring to Grayson County Judge Bill Magers. In total, Torti estimated these upgrades cost about $75,000 against a $100,000 budget.
With the possibility of the FAA assuming responsibility for tower funding, Torti said he has received questions regarding why radar had not been included in the list of upgrades. Torti said the exclusion of radar technology was not a monetary decision, but was at the discretion of the FAA and not needed at this time. If, at a later date, it is determined that the equipment is necessary, Torti said the FAA can petition for its installation.
For his part, Magers said the majority of the equipment has arrived at the airport, save for a few pieces. However, Magers said the airport received an update on the FAA requirements earlier this week, and is trying to confirm whether this will impact the equipment list. Despite this, should there are any changes, Magers said he expects them to be minor and will not impact the inspection.
Magers agreed that the Oct. 1 inclusion date was aggressive, but said it is a possibility if the inspection goes well. Even if the airport is not included by October, Magers said he fully expects the airport to be included by the end of the calendar year.
As a precaution, Magers said county commissioners have included the airport’s annual funding in the most recent Grayson County budget. However, the county judge said he does not see this being an issue.
Following the inspection, Torti said there will be an interview and background checks with current control tower staff.
“We would like to keep our current staff, but if a background check does not turn out, our hands are tied,” he said.
While there are no current plans to change the current level of staffing, Torti said there has been consideration of expanding the tower’s hours by about four hours each day. This would require one to two new controllers, Torti said.