Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Central Kentucky Regional Airport (KRGA) open house is Saturday: Manager wary of plans to privatize air traffic control

The Central Kentucky Regional Airport will host its spring open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Attendees from ages 8 to 17 will be given free flights, courtesy of the local Experimental Aircraft Association, according to Jason Bonham, the airport manager.

The annual open house is designed to showcase improvements at the facility, formerly known as the Madison Airport, said Dr. Wilma Walker, the airport board chair.

A barbecue lunch will be served while supplies last.

This year, a ceremony will formally thank the heads of Madison County’s three local governments for their increased contributions toward additonal airport expansion, Walker said.

Instead of the local governments’ annual $25,000 contributions toward the airport’s operation, each this year was asked to provide $130,000 to fund design of additional airport facilities, including a larger apron and a new terminal building.

The design work will provide a better cost estimate for the expansion, now thought to be about $7.8 million, Walker said.

Certificates of appreciation will be presented to Madison Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor and mayors Jim Barnes and Steve Connelly of Richmond and Berea, respectively. The three officials also will be given rides in a new Cessna 172 Top Hawk equipped with the latest communication and guidance technology, Walker said.

The Eastern Kentucky University Aviation Department was one of five training programs to be loaned a Cessna Top Hawk for 2017, she noted.

The aircraft and others will be available for attendees to inspect.

While the airport’s runway has been extended to 5,000 feet, thanks to a 500-foot addition, and the apron and automobile parking lot were previously expanded, additional improvements are needed for what Walker called “the front door of economic development for Madison County.”

Airport traffic growing

The airport, managed for the three local governments by Eastern Kentucky University, is enjoying increased use, averaging about 100 daily takeoffs and landings, Bonham said.

EKU also uses the airport for the flight training portion of its growing aviation program. With about 175 students enrolled, it is Kentucky’s only baccalaureate aviation program. Of those, about 135 are studying professional flight while 40 concentrate on aviation management.

About 50 incoming freshmen are expected to enroll as aviation majors in the fall, according to numbers provided by the university.

Worrisome clouds on horizon

Walker and Bonham’s optimistic outlook is tempered a bit by the Trump Administration’s proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.

Flights in and out of CKRA don’t require radio contact with Lexington-Bluegrass Airport air traffic control unless they file instrument flight plans, Bonham said.

Still, any time an aircraft reaches an altitude of 700, it has entered controlled air space, he explained.

If the United States switches to privatized air traffic control, similar to Canada and Europe, the system would likely be overseen by an appointed board.

Smaller airports and the small businesses that use them fear such a board would be dominated by large commercial carriers that would favor their own operations, said Bonham, a member of the Kentucky Aviation Association board of directors.

Much airport infrastructure and the air traffic control system is funded by revenue from the aviation fuel tax, just as motor fuel taxes support highway infrastructure.

If a privatized system switches to fee-based revenue, anytime an aircraft lands at a smaller airport, uses airspace or makes radio contact with air traffic control, it could incur a fee, Bonham said.

The United States has the world’s best aviation system, and the general aviation industry mostly favors retaining it, he said.

News reports, including a story by CNHI’s national correspondent Kery Murakami, attribute the call for a privatized system to the large commercial carriers.

Murakami quoted Bonham in his story.

The airlines blame the rising cost and delay in the switch to satellite-based from radar-based air traffic control on the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the reports.

In 2016, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., sponsored an air traffic control privatization bill that cleared the House Transportation Committee he chairs. However, others in the House leadership kept the chamber from voting on it.

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