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Commission approves funding for Tulsa air traffic control study

 The Journal Record | August 7, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission approved $300,000 in state funding Wednesday for a study at Tulsa International Airport that regulators hope will lead to funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for the construction of a new air traffic control tower.

The airport’s current ATC tower is 60 years old and demands a high level of maintenance, requiring the airport to occasionally use a temporary tower that limits capabilities.

“It is aged way beyond its capability to sustain itself,” OAC Deputy Director Grayson Ardies said. “They’ve had to evacuate the tower a couple of times. I think once they had a fire that released asbestos. … They had the elevator that broke a couple of times.”

OAC funds and $139,000 contributed by the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust will pay for an Airport Facilities Terminal Integration Laboratory study, where the FAA will determine the size and technology needs, location and cost of the new tower.

“The study is done in order to find the best location on the airfield that meets the requirements of the FAA in terms of ‘do you have the right line of sight to be able to see all the taxiways, runways, terminal buildings,’ everything they would have to control,” said Andrew Pierini, TAIT director of air service and marketing.

Pierini said the study will take one year and no timeline is set for construction because it will depend on the results of the study and available funding.

Normally FAA-staffed ATC towers are owned by the agency, but the airport owns its tower, so there has been some resistance from the agency in contributing to construction of a new one.

Ardies said there is hope that through the study, the FAA will see the need to contribute funds, but regulators will begin pressuring the agency before the study begins.

“We’re still hopeful through our congressional delegation and through pressure we might be able to apply … that FAA will invest in the replacement tower, because it can’t necessarily be born solely between the local airport and any kind of state investment that might be able to happen,” Ardies said.

TAIT is working on a five-year capital improvement plan that includes fiscal year 2020 and 2021 projects to work on elevators and escalators, rehabilitate buildings and repair parking lots, roads and taxiways.

Also at the Wednesday meeting, the OAC approved grants for projects throughout the state in its Aerospace and Aviation Education Program, including summer camps, events and curriculum.

OAC Director Victor Bird thanked the commission for hearing about the projects, addressing the state’s shortage of pilots and skilled workers and the “long-standing, decades-old problem” of a shortage of engineers.

“Thank you for your support of our Aerospace and Aviation Education Program. I think it’s the best in the country and we’ll continue to try to make it better,” Bird said.

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