SLO airport was largely unaffected by stalemate over FAA funding

The stalemate over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration had minimal effect at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, its manager said, but it did threaten grant money the local facility hopes to receive.

Airport Manager Richard Howell also ripped elected officials for “shameful” behavior in letting the crisis descend on “a critical piece of our country’s transportation system.”

In an email response to questions from The Tribune, Howell said the airport was told informally earlier this year that it would receive $867,000 for safety modifications and a pavement sweeper. “However,” he added, “the (FAA employee) furlough was put in place before the FAA could formally offer the grant.”

Howell said that “until they come back, we cannot move forward.”

A bill to end the stalemate is expected to be voted on today in Congress.

As to safety, Howell said the airport has already had its safety inspection for this year, “and I don’t expect to see the inspector until 2012.” One aspect of the stalemate was inspectors having to work without pay.

Howell said the airport’s safety issues “are minor and associated with changes in FAA pavement marking standards. While they will be corrected, in themselves they don’t create a hazard to operation on the airport.”

The biggest issue for him in the FAA debate, Howell wrote, is the way the nation’s airports got to this point.

He said the current authorization bill ran out in 2007, but “instead of crafting a new bill, there have been 20 extensions, mostly attributed to politics and kicking the can down the road.”

“In themselves, the extensions have wreaked havoc with the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant process for going on four years now. It’s shameful our elected officials have done this,” Howell said.