FAA shutdown creates uncertain future for Albany terminal project

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- When Congress failed to negotiate an extension of the Federal Aviation Administration's duties Friday, it possibly impacted the future of the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport's new multi-million dollar terminal project, officials say.

Airport Director Yvette Aehle said that if the issues with the FAA aren't resolved by the time bids have to be awarded in early fall, FFA will not award the project.

"I can't award a bid that's going to be funded mostly by the FAA if the FAA is still on furlough," Aehle said. "If the situation hasn't changed by then, then we'll just have to put things on hold."

Aehle said that airport officials were contacted by FAA officials in Atlanta prior to the shutdown and given information on how to proceed with the bid process.

"They essentially were like, 'if we're here, we'll move forward as normal but if we're not in the office, just e-mail us and we'll get to it when we get back," she said.

Aehle said there was no indication from the FAA prior to the shutdown that Albany would be one of the rural cities where flights could be canceled altogether.

Officials say the shutdown means about $17 million in FAA grant money won't be handed out to airports across the state and the federal airline ticket tax will be suspended temporarily.

The city is attempting to undertake a $15.8 million joint venture with the FAA to build a new apron, airport terminal and other improvements at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. Most of the funding is slated to come from the FAA with the remainder to be funded by sales tax dollars.

Once completed, the terminal project will replace the current one which is one of the state's oldest airport terminals, having been in continual use since 1959.

On Friday, federal lawmakers couldn't agree on a bill extending the operating authority of the FAA. Republicans in the House wanted to cut $16.5 million in subsidies to rural communities, while Democrats refused to accept a bill without the money.

Overall, 4,000 FAA employees are temporarily out of work.

Obama administration officials have said the shutdown will not affect air safety. Air traffic controllers will remain on the job.