Airport awaits availability for federal improvement grant

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Municipal Airport (EMA) has received a federal airport improvement grant to upgrade the facility's apron and aircraft tie-down areas.
   Now, airport officials just have to wait to see when federal funding for the grant becomes available.
   "In the tie-down area, we've got some pretty rigid cracking of the asphalt," said Randy Musick, airport general manager. Aircraft landing at the airport are stored on the airport tie-down area. Visible hairline cracks snake through the asphalt along the tie-down.
   Gerald F. Nicely, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, announced approval of the grant last month. The department's Aeronautics Division is administering the grant through the Federal Aviation Administration.
   A caveat of the grant centers on when federal funding becomes available for administration through DOT. The project will be funded at 90 percent by the state with 10 percent in matching funds coming from the Elizabethton Airport Commission. The total amount of the project has not been determined.
   The total FAA 2004 budget request of $14 billion is approximately 3 percent higher than FAA's budget resources in 2003. The budget is comprised of $3.4 billion for the Grants in Aid for Airports account, including grants to eligible airports to enhance capacity, emphasize safety and security needs, and mitigate noise.
   Musick said the Airport Commission expected to select an engineering firm to oversee the project and other future infrastructure developments at the airport on Monday.
   While the blustery winter weather had reduced airport traffic through 2003, Musick said the airport had gotten a boost from travelers from Western North Carolina's resort area.
   "One thing that has helped is we are getting a little more traffic out of the Banner Elk area," said Musick. "We are getting a pretty good following up there."
   He added that the Elk River private airport near Banner Elk had begun recommending the Elizabethton airport as a destination based on the availability of fuel and tie-down space.