FAA awards $1.2M to Lea airportsCURTIS C. WYNNE NEWS-SUN
Awarding a total of $1.2 million to Lea County airports, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration announced the first of five annual rounds of funding established by the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Lea County Regional Airport in Hobbs will receive $1,018,010 while Zip Franklin Memorial Airport in Lovington and the Lea County Jal Airport near Jal are to receive $110,000 each.
The money comes from the Airport Infrastructure Grant program, one of three new aviation programs created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which was signed into law in November.
The law provides $15 billion over five years for the Airport Infrastructure Program. The FAA estimates the backlog of airport modernization and safety projects totals $43.6 billion, according to a recent FAA news release.
For FY22, $2.89 billion has been made available to U.S. airports around the nation, according to the FAA website. Of that amount, the 46 airports in New Mexico are slated to receive about $18 million. The federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
“The money can be invested in runways, taxiways, safety and sustainability projects, as well as terminal, airport-transit connections and roadway projects,” said an FAA news release. “This is the first of five annual rounds of funding New Mexico airports will receive.”
In addition to the Lea County Regional Airport, three other commercial airports in the state will get more than $1 million in this round of funding:
• Albuquerque International Sun-port: $7,642,358
• Santa Fe Municipal: $1,615,005
• Roswell Air Center: $1,039,047
An additional 42 reliever and general aviation airports across New Mexico are also estimated to receive funding during the first year of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The funding is in addition to FAA grants from the Airport Rescue Grant Program under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March, for which the Lea County Commission approved applications in its Dec. 9 meeting.
While those grants also totaled approximately $1.2 million for all three Lea County airports, the funds are established for costs related to operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitation, janitorial services, combating virus spread and debt service.
The grants are 100 percent federal share with no local match required.
Proposed ARPA funding grants include $22,794 for Lea County Regional’s concession area, such as car rentals and vending machines, in addition to $1,136,889 for the airport. The Jal and Loving-ton airports would get $22,000 each under those grants.
Addressing the latest announced funding, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build safer and more sustainable airports that connect individuals to jobs and communities to the world.
“With this new funding, urban, regional and rural airports across the country now can get to work on projects that have waited for years, modernizing their infrastructure and building a better America,” Buttigieg concluded.
Lea County Assistant Manager Corey Needham, who manages the county’s airports, said he had not yet been informed of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, so no plans yet exist for how the funds will be spent.
Except for following required federal guidance, details of expenditures of the ARPA funds also are yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, Needham noted an aspect of the Hobbs airport he said he and others are currently investigating beyond “very good” ridership numbers over the holidays.
“Over a seven-day period that we looked at before Christmas, … we had an abnormal effect,” Needham said. “We had people connecting through Hobbs as if it’s a hub airport. They’re going from Houston to Denver and Denver to Houston, through Hobbs.
“Almost 25 percent of our ridership are connecting passengers. We don’t know what’s driving it. We don’t know if it’s an anomaly. We don’t have enough information on it yet,” Needham said.
While many direct flights between Denver and Houston are available, officials will be trying to determine why so many people are using a stop in Hobbs to connect. Two possibilities suggested are flight schedules and rates, but until more information is available, Needham said, “It’s a fun anomaly that we’ve never experienced before.”
Curtis Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@.
More local news at https://www.hobbsnews.com
More about Lea County airports https://www.leacounty.net/p/departments/public-works/lea-county-airports