By REID TUCKER
Several new capital improvement projects will go a long way toward accomplishing the five-year goals laid out for the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport while increasing the facility’s safety.
The three projects, which include repainting airfield markings, relocating the airport’s beacon and installing a sophisticated new computerized weather monitoring system, will begin soon, though Interim City Manager Kelly Schultz, who also serves as the city’s Airport Services Supervisor, said there is no definite timeframe for their completion yet.
However, each project needed distinct approval from the City Council before they could get underway. The Council, at its Aug. 22 meeting, unanimously authorized Schultz and staff to request bids for the repainting project and to accept a federal grant and award contracts for the weather monitoring system and beacon relocation.
The first project, that of repainting the faded white markings that identify one runway from another and delineate different sections of the airfield, may seem to be the simplest at first glance, but Schultz said that isn’t reason to overlook its importance. The airport is subject to an annual licensing inspection by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which in 2010 cited the airport for its faded markings. This creates a safety concern, as pilots may be unable to see their designated runway upon final approach, Schultz said.
“The sun has bleached them out to the point that they’re almost completely invisible,” she said. “You really have to know what you’re looking for on certain ones to find them.”
Thanks to a funds-matching agreement established between the city and FDOT in September 2010, the state agency will foot 80 percent of the bill for the project via a grant reimbursing the city for up to $46,550 while the remaining 20 percent will come from the city’s coffers. Bids for the project will be advertised for two weeks after opening on Sept. 14.
The city sought grants from both FDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to the greater expenses associated with the latter two capital improvement projects. The FAA allocates the city an entitlement fund of $150,000 for projects such as this but the city must still get federal approval before going ahead with any projects, Schultz said.
For the installation of an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), the FAA has provided the city a grant of $307,511, well in excess of the estimated amount needed to complete the project. Schultz said the grant will be used to fund up to 95 percent of the cost of installing the AWOS and all unused funds will be folded back into the city’s available entitlement fund for future projects. The city and FDOT split the remaining 5 percent between them.
AWOS are first and foremost safety systems that provide pilots with critical information such as wind speed and direction, temperature and visibility among others. Most large airports make use of AWOS, but the implementation of the systems by smaller general aviation airports has recently become more widespread, said Schultz. The nearest airport with AWOS capability is in Crestview, which Schultz said is far enough away that it doesn’t always provide up-to-date or accurate information for DeFuniak Springs’ airport.
“The weather is sometimes a lot different between here and [Crestview],” Schultz said. “The visibility may be completely clear at our airport but may be foggy over there. Calling into Crestview won’t give you a full picture of what’s happening in DeFuniak.”
The AWOS, which is a large structure containing a data processing platform and wide array of sensors, will be installed on the back side of the airport, just off the bend in Jean Hurley Road. Schultz said this project could conceivably take the longest of the three to complete as the area is heavily wooded and many trees will need to be removed prior to the AWOS’ installation.
The final project involves moving the airport’s beacon from its current location atop the main paint hangar near the main terminal to a much larger freestanding structure near the hangars on the back of the airfield. Schultz said this particular project is of immediate concern as the beacon’s current location is not high enough nor is the beacon itself bright or large enough to afford pilots good visibility of the airport.
The City Council agreed to accept JD James, Inc.’s bid of $197,088.81 for the installation of the AWOS and also to accept a bid of $62,300 to TCA Electrical Contractors, Inc. for the beacon relocation project. The city will only be responsible for $6,484.72 of the combined $259,388.81 for both projects due to the local fund-matching agreement between DeFuniak Springs and FDOT. The number does not include the fees charged to the city for administering the grant, though Schultz said she was in negotiation with the consultant to ensure that this did not exceed the local match amount.
Recently, the federally mandated FAA furloughs had Schultz worried that none of the bigger renovation projects might go forward or might be delayed for the foreseeable future, but, fortunately for the city, those issues were resolved and the plans for the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport were only held up a few weeks.
“It didn’t have that big of an impact but it kept us on pins and needles for a while,” Schultz said. “We had no way of knowing if they were going to come back to work or, if they made it back to work on time, if they were still going to grant these funds to the [city]. We just didn’t know.”
Future projects included in the airport’s master plan are a runway extension to accommodate larger aircraft and the construction of a new terminal and more hangars. These projects have been submitted five years in advance to FDOT as part of the state’s Joint Aviation Capital Improvement Program and are pending approval. Schultz said they will be most likely completed within five years unless the Council decides to push the projects back or if FDOT decides not to fund the projects with a grant at that time.