FAA ruling complicates airport's fed funding


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, March 18, 2018

State and federal agencies have determined the Airport Authority of the Elizabeth City Regional Airport is not the “federally recognized sponsor” of the airport, a determination that complicates its ability to receive federal funding.

In an interview this week, N.C. Division of Aviation spokesman James Pearce explained his agency recently made its determination about the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Airport Authority’s ability to receive federal funds while conducting a “discrepancy check” on airports after another airport requested a sponsorship change.

The review found issues not only with Elizabeth City Regional Airport’s ability to receive federal funds but that of a handful of other general aviation airports as well, Pearce said. General aviation refers to airports not providing regularly scheduled passenger service; the Elizabeth City Regional Airport is used primarily by military aircraft and private pilots.

Pearce said the airport authority can continue directly accepting state grants, but the Federal Aviation Administration wants the city to sign off on any federal funds it appropriates to the airport.

City and airport officials are questioning the change. In separate interviews on Wednesday, Airport Manager Gordon Rowell and City Manager Rich Olson said part of the issue may be that the city, which co-created the airport with Pasquotank County, still owns some property there.

Rowell and Olson also explained the state legislation defining the airport authority, Session Law 1987-198, was intended to give it the power to handle the airport's finances. Olson pointed out one provision states the authority “shall have authority to deal with the Federal Aviation Agency and any other federal or state agency” concerning airport business. The FAA was formerly known as an agency instead of an administration.

Though not overtly disputing the FAA's determination, Airport Authority Chairman Johnnie Houston said Wednesday the authority is working to clarify the issue and see if there's been a “misinterpretation.” The airport authority will act appropriately on the matter after getting more information from the FAA, he said.

Pearce said there are two ways to resolve the issue. The city could act as grant signatory for the airport from now on, or it could seek to change the sponsorship, a process that takes 12-18 months, he said.

Rowell said the state and FAA's determination about the authority’s status won't ultimately reduce how much federal funding the airport receives every year — $150,000 or more, depending on what projects are going on – but it will create more paperwork.