Monday, July 17, 2017

Miami County moves to get Grissom airstrip into national airport system: County could have unique access to grants as the only military joint-use airport in Indiana

BUNKER HILL – Miami County officials are working to get the airstrip at Grissom Air Reserve Base included into the national airport system in the hopes of gaining access to federal dollars to upgrade civilian facilities there.

Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, which oversees the civilian use of the airstrip, said the county is in the process of applying with the Federal Aviation Administration to include Grissom in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.

The plan identifies nearly 3,400 existing and proposed airports that are significant to national air transportation that are eligible to receive federal grants under the Airport Improvement Program.

Tidd said a feasibility study looking at the long-term needs and future growth of civilian uses at the airstrip has been conducted in preparation to apply to the national airport system.

He said the sales pitch to the FAA to gain inclusion in the system is the unique capacity the airstrip has to accommodate large, industrial airplanes such as the Boeing 747. Tidd said no other airport in north central Indiana can accommodate the size of aircraft that can use Grissom’s facilities.

That capacity led to Dean Baldwin Painting to open inside a renovated airplane hangar near the base in 2013 to service and paint large airplanes from clients such as American Airlines, Southwest and Air Canada.

“We’re trying to develop Grissom to have more economic impact and job creation to handle these large aircrafts that no other airport in our region can do,” Tidd said. “We’re not trying to compete in the recreation market. We’re just trying to use this airport for economic impact in our region.”

But the main reason for getting into the national airport system is gaining access to federal dollars that could fund major upgrades to the civilian facilities at the base, which has a joint-use agreement with the Miami County Economic Development Authority to allow civilian planes to land on the airstrip.

That funding could come from the FAA’s Military Airport Program, which provides money exclusively to joint-use airports, such as Grissom, or to convert former military airports to civilian use.

Tidd said Grissom is the only joint-use airport in the state, and one of only around 14 in the entire country, which could apply to receive money from the military program. That money could finance projects such as building or rehabilitating hangars, utility systems, access roads, cargo buildings and other airfield projects.

“It would be a shot in the arm for us to repair and resurface ramps or build and remodel new facilities around the airport,” he said. “It would be very, very beneficial – not just to Miami County, but to north central Indiana as a whole.”

Since 1990, the FAA has provided airport sponsors in the military program with approximately $722 million for a variety of airfield-related projects, according to FAA’s website.

Miami County commissioners Monday approved a letter supporting the initiative to get Grissom into the national airport system. Tidd said the project has also received written support from Indiana’s U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, and U.S. Representatives Jackie Walorski and Todd Rokita.

Tidd said getting accepted into the national system can be a difficult process, but the payout could be well worth the effort.

“You’ve got to have a ticket to play, and getting into the National Plan Integrated Airport System is one of our goals,” he said. “It could be tough, but at least we’d be there to be competitive and submit an application for this grant money.”

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