FAA finds 1 need in NTRA inspection

Michael Hutchins, Herald Democrat
Inspectors with the Federal Aviation Administration this week found just one item that needs to be upgraded before NTRA can be included in its contract tower program. The program will transfer responsibility for funding the operations of the airport’s control tower to the FAA. (Herald Democrat)

For more than six years, representatives for Grayson County have pushed to have North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field included in a Federal Aviation Administration program aimed at funding manned control towers. Now, only a six-foot tall chain-link fence stands in the way.

The news comes following a formal inspection by the FAA on Tuesday that found only one major change — a required security fence — remains before the airport can be included in the program. Officials said this was a victory for the airport and the finding will not delay the transition of the tower funding, which is expected to start on Oct. 1.

“Great news, we have one item we need to do to be included in the program,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said. “We can now say with certainty when we complete this fence that we are in the program.”

For the better part of a decade, area officials have tried to have NTRA included in the FAA’s contract tower program, which would shift responsibility for the funding of the tower from Grayson County to the FAA and could provide additional funding for operations.

Through inclusion in the program, the county will no longer need to provide the approximately $275,000 in funding for the five employees who man the tower, making it a win for Grayson taxpayers, Magers said. Through this program, Magers said the tower could see more than $500,000 in annual funding each year.

Efforts were stalled in 2013 with a federal budget sequestration, and it took some time for the program to start accepting new candidates again. NTRA was formally accepted as a candidate for the program in April, following efforts by local leaders, lobbyists and area representatives.

“We are in the program today, but getting in the door and getting the funding are not the same thing,” Magers said.

Since the airport was admitted as a candidate for the program, airport officials have worked to bring the tower up to the minimum equipment list standards required for FAA control towers. These improvements included various items ranging from new sun shades for the tower’s windows to anti-static carpeting.

Other improvements, that are not needed before the transfer, include additional lighting at the terminal building and an upgrade for the tower’s information line in order to provide additional security as is standard for the FAA. Jim Wimberly, representing Texas Aviation Partners, said the information line will be funded by the FAA, who will be reimbursed by NTRA over the course of two years. Despite the expenses, Wimberly said the cost is expected to come just under the $100,000 improvement budget.

With the inspection completed, Wimberly said the construction of the security fence should be completed by week’s end.

With the inclusion of NTRA in the program, Magers said it could serve as a marketing point for the airport. By including the airport in the program, Magers said it can serve as a seal approval from the FAA and attract additional business to the area. Magers compared this to the effect of having an interstate in a community can have for industrial and freight business.

Airport Director Bob Torti said the program will not have immediate changes to operations of the tower, noting that many of the same controllers would still work there. However, Torti said there is a possibility of extending the hours of the tower to run from 6 a.m. through 10 p.m.

“I think that would be a great benefit to the flight school, US Aviation,” Torti said.