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FAA Shutdown Jeopardizes Funding for ABIA Projects

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Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News
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A plane on the tarmac at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Texas airports are feeling the effect of a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. Funding for the agency expired on Friday because of disagreement among federal lawmakers. Two major projects were halted today and more than 250 workers were temporarily laid off this morning.

Almost all of the 267 furloughed Texas employees work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. None worked in Austin. The FAA employees were responsible for coordinating grant money and overseeing airport construction planning across the state.

Austin is eligible for $1.3 million per year in “entitlement” grant funding from the FAA. That funding is usually automatic, and is based on the number of passengers who pass through an airport.

Airports can also apply for “discretionary” grants for various projects. Those funding decisions are made by federal officials.

The City of Austin is about to begin phase two of a $6 million project to increase overnight parking for jets at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The city was expecting to be partially reimbursed through FAA grants. There are no plans to halt construction on the project due to the shutdown, according to ABIA spokesman Jim Halbrook.

The city’s Aviation Department was also planning to apply in September for another FAA grant to improve lighting control on the runways at ABIA. The estimated cost of the project is $1.5 million. Funding for that project is now in jeopardy.

The situation is more serious at airports undergoing larger construction projects. At George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, a $25 million project to build a new radar facility has ground to a sudden halt. Same for construction on a new $9 million control tower in Abilene.

None of this should have an immediate impact on air travel, according to airport and federal officials.

Earlier today, US Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood urged Congress to pass funding for the FAA. He said more than 4,000 FAA personnel have been furloughed.

Congress is deadlocked over a short-term  funding for FAA, which has been operating without a long-term authorization bill since 2007, according to The Hill.

The House voted on Wednesday to approve another quick fix, but the chamber’s bill included changes to the Essential Air Service (EAS) program that provides grants to airlines for flying to rural airports, which the Senate and White House said should be left for a longer FAA funding bill. Republican leaders in the House said they were not taking another vote on a bill without the provisions, and Senate Democrats said they would not vote on the bill as amended by the House, leading to the stalemate.

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