More than 150 of the privately owned towers in the FAA's air-control system for small and regional airports are eligible to apply for infrastructure improvement grants. (FAA)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced that it is accepting applications from regional airports in small towns for improvements and repairs to airport-owned towers as well as install communications equipment.

The funding comes from bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds. 

“Residents of smaller and rural communities rely on aviation to get where they need to go. This funding will help ensure that air traffic is safe and reliable in communities across America,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement to the Daily Yonder. 

There are currently 157 airports with eligible contract air traffic control towers for this funding. These towers are staffed by employees of private companies rather than by FAA employees. The FAA pays for the services on a contract basis. The FAA’s Contract Tower Program began in 1982 to allow the agency to contract out the operation of certain low-activity towers.

“This funding will allow airport sponsors to build or repair their facilities to meet safety standards and be environmentally friendly and sustainable,” said FAA Associate Administrator of Airports Shannetta Griffin in a press statement.

The FAA Contract Tower grant program provides $20 million annually for five years. Grants awarded under this program are at a 100% federal participation. No airport match is required.

“Many airports perform maintenance work to keep their airfield, terminal and tower safe,” said Matthew Lehner, a spokesman for the FAA in an interview with the Daily Yonder. “But this is the first time since the 2009 Obama-era American Recovery & Reinvestment Act that airports have had new additional funding from the federal government. When you compare the two laws, the 2009 investment is just 5% of what the 2021 law invests in the nation’s aviation system.”

Lehner said the FAA will try to make the funding go as far as possible. 

“For some towers, they need small upgrades. For others, they need bigger upgrades,” he said, adding that examples of a small upgrade would be shades in the cab of a tower. A medium update could include a new roof while a large upgrade could include new plumbing or making a tower ADA accessible.

“The buildings are safe, but to keep them that way they need to be maintained or parts of the building need to be replaced. Just like a house, eventually you have to perform maintenance work or replace parts,” he said. 

Lehner noted that one of the major goals for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is to have local small businesses, especially those owned by women and minorities, perform the work. In January 2022, the FAA held a small business summit to answer questions for small businesses that may not be familiar doing business with the federal government. 

“We are continuing our outreach to businesses located near where projects will happen,” he said. 

 “As far as where do the air traffic controllers come from that work in these towers: They largely live in or near the same communities and towns where the airports are.”

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