Officials with North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field still anticipate that the airport could be included in the Federal Aviation Administration’s federal contract tower program as early as Oct. 1. This comes following improvements and upgrades to the tower and as inspectors for the FAA prepare to inspect the site this week.
The program, which has been a longtime goal for county officials, would move responsibility for funding the operation of the tower program from county to the FAA. In the past five years, the county has pushed for inclusion in the program amid a federal budget sequestration in 2013 and a gradual reopening of the program.
Inspectors will be on site Tuesday morning to assess any additional needs before the airport’s inclusion in the program, officials said Monday.
“As of now, that’s the date,” NTRA Airport Manager Bob Torti said Monday. “Tomorrow at noon that date could shift, but that’s where we are.”
In preparation for the upcoming inspection officials with the airport started a number of improvements and upgrades to bring the tower up to the minimum equipment list for FAA towers. Torti said these improvements included new shades for the tower’s windows, specialized antistatic carpeting and other improvements. Communications equipment for the tower was also upgraded in preparation for the inspection, Torti said. The terminal building itself is receiving an upgrade to its outside lighting, and the tower may also need security fencing, he added.
If included in the program, the county would no longer be responsible for financing the tower’s operation, saving it more than $200,000 a year. However, if the tower is included, it could see more than $500,000 or more in federal funding invested in it each year, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said.
In years past, airport officials said this annual investment by the county was one of the final pieces that it needed to become profitable without outside investment from the county.
“Obviously, if we are successful then it’s a home run with bases loaded,” Torti said, describing the inspection Tuesday.
As a precaution, Magers said the county included the annual investment in the airport in its current budget along with a standard $100,000 for capital improvements. It is this second batch of funds that have been used to finance these improvements.
Magers said currently the improvements are under the budget but noted that he was cautious as the inspection could reveal other improvements that will need to be made before inclusion. However, Magers said he did not foresee anything coming up that would hinder the project.
Despite the front investment, Magers said the benefit far outweighed the cost. With the FAA support, Magers said this could mean additional interest and investment in what has been called Grayson County’s diamond in the rough.
“Once you are in that program, you are a different kind of airport,” Magers said. “Does that open you up for TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) grants for future improvements? I would think so.”
Magers said there was no specific set length of time for the program, noting that most airports that are included remain in the program. Ultimately, Magers said it would be determined by the cost-to-benefit ratio, noting that the airport has seen increased use in recent years, making it a prime candidate for the program.