Columbus Municipal Airport is again seeking federal funds to support the creation of a new air traffic control tower. And despite previous setbacks, Director Brian Payne is feeling optimistic.
The airport has submitted applications to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Contract Tower Competitive Grant Program and the Airport Terminals Program, which both provide grant funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Payne expects to find out the results this spring.
“I feel more confident than ever that we’re going to receive some funds, and obviously much-needed funds for this control tower,” he said.
The airport applied to a previous round of the tower grant program but was not chosen to receive funds. At the time, local officials had submitted a request for $10 million to replace the tower. However, most of the projects that received grants were those that focused on rehabilitating or upgrading existing towers.
This time around, the airport has submitted two funding requests to each grant program, a $10 million request for the full tower, and a $1.5 million request that would just pay for the tower’s design. This was done on the advice of the FAA officials from the Chicago Airport District Office.
Payne said it’s more likely that they would receive funds from the control tower grants than the terminal program, though they were advised by the FAA to apply for both. He also expects that they may be more likely to receive funding for the design than for the full project, and he noted that having design plans completed will help future efforts to seek federal funds for the rest of the project.
“If we were to get that design funded through BIL funding, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are other opportunities that the FAA in Chicago has said that they would help out, they would step in and help us as we start gathering all the pieces to find the full funding for the tower,” said Payne. “So again, everything I’m hearing from them is very positive.”
The existing Columbus Municipal Airport control tower dates back to the 1960s. Although it is still structurally sound and safe for use, there are some accessibility issues, and certain safety items — such as stair tread, height and width — are not up to current standards.
Additionally, a new tower is also needed to support the airport as its operations continue to grow, said Payne. When he stepped into the role of airport director, Columbus Municipal Airport was running 36,000 operations per year.
He reported at Tuesday’s aviation board meeting that the airport ran a total of 55,303 operations in 2022, which was a record high and 8.5% more than their previous peak.
“Everything is trending in a very positive direction for us, and the FAA sees that,” said Payne.