Montevideo still holds title, despite having an insufficient runway.
Members of the Granite Falls City Council stated that they were “disappointed” to learn that the Granite Falls Municipal Airports efforts for inclusion into the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) were denied this past week.
Since 2004 the city has been working to obtain acceptance into the NPIAS system, developing a project Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA) and seeking special justification for unmet federal criteria revolving around proximity to other airports.
In 2011, findings were incorporated into a presentation to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, after which city representatives were informed that the airport was in good standing to receive the designation, which carries with it 95 percent federal and state funding for all future airport capital improvements.
At the time, Minneapolis Airports District Office, Great Lakes Region, Manager Steven Obenauer said that he was impressed with the $1 million in local financial support for the construction of the initial $3.1 million airport (the rest of which was funded by the state).
“With what I have seen so far,” Obenauer said. “Based on the community support, based on the analysis that was put together in the request––I am persuaded that there is a spot for Granite Falls in NPIAS and serving this area.”
As a result of the meeting, the local NPIAS application was submitted to the FAA and MnDOT in April of 2012 with the knowledge that they were unlikely to receive admittance until at least 2013. Hopes, however, were dashed when last week’s letter from FAA Mineapolis Airports District Office Manager Chris Hugunin denied the request based on the FAA’s analysis of Bolton and Menk’s special justification reasoning and BCA report, which ran contrary to the local airport engineer’s findings.
The criteria requiring special justification involved federal mandates that limit the proximity of NPIAS airports by 30 minutes of travel time. Depending on weather, the NPIAS designated Montevideo-Chippewa County Airport is 22-33 minutes away.
Bolton and Menk contended that despite the closeness, the special justification was warranted as the Montevideo airport has an insufficient runway length to handle turbojet aircraft, of which the Granite Falls airport serves as the base for two. Further, due to a potential lack of expansion capabilities, the Montevideo airport may never be able to accommodate such aircraft making the airports not fully comparable.
On this matter, the FAA said that it did not see a place for the Granite Falls Airport as Montevideo and Marshall Airports service areas encapsulated Granite Falls with adequate offerings.
As for the Benefit/Cost Analysis, Bolton and Menk came up with a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.64 (anything over one is considered cost effetive) based on estimated airport development costs in relation to 20-year projected benefits.
According to the analysis, the total cumulative benefit of corporate aircraft operations would be nearly $30 million over 20 years while the benefit of non-corporate operations would amount to just over $8 million. The FAA on-the-other-hand saw a different picture, stating that their review of the document found a ratio that was not greater than 1.0.
As to why the airport engineer and the FAA were so far off on their findings is a question that the city is still waiting to hear on from Bolton and Menk. City Manager Bill Lavin noted that the airport engineer who developed the BCA report is no longer with firm, slowing down the process.
According to Lavin, while the FAA “made it pretty clear that that at this time their decision is final,” he also noted that if the city is able to rectify the FAA’s impression of a poor benefit-to-cost ratio for the airport, that it may justify re-submission of an application at a later time.
To date, the city has expended approximately $24,500 on the NPIAS application process.