MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 15, 2013

Airport officials to fight status study

FAA’s downgrade of Davis Field’s classification is at issue

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Local airport officials will join other airport operators across the state in a challenge to a federal asset study that reclassified Davis Field as a local airport.

The airport, which was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2011 as the outstanding airport in Oklahoma, was classified as a regional business airport. Although Davis Field retains that classification with the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, the downgrade raises some concerns among airport officials who questioned the FAA’s methodology.

Airport Manager Garry Lynn said federal aviation officials insist the reclassification will not affect airport funding. But airport operators across the state whose facilities were reclassified remain skeptical about that claim, he said.

“The FAA has not changed the funding, and they will tell you that outright,” Lynn said. “There are some who are skeptical — in the past, when an entity has classified something, it has not been unusual for the amount of funding to change later.”

Lynn, who persuaded city councilors to join the Oklahoma Airport Operators Association’s challenge to the study’s findings, said the reclassification was based upon criteria that differ significantly from those applied by OAOA.

A resolution approved Monday by city councilors states the “adoption of the FAA study and criteria was made without public comment, hearing or input.” It goes on to state that the study was conducted in a manner “outside the normal practice of the FAA in promulgating rules or programs which have a widespread effect.”

Public Works Director Mike Stewart said Davis Field receives about $150,000 a year in federal funding for its operations. As the airport has paved runways large enough to accommodate some of the largest aircraft, Stewart said, it makes no sense for Davis Field to be stamped with a classification below other fields with grass runways.

The results of the FAA’s asset study of about 3,000 general aviation airports were published in May. The 18-month study was intended to align the airports into four categories — national, regional, local, and basic — based upon their activity levels.

Lynn said it appeared that officials conducting the study failed to make an “apple-to-apples” comparison. He said factors specific to certain facilities that should have had a bearing on the FAA’s findings also appeared to have been left out of the calculation.

As an example, Lynn cited one airport in the state that missed being classified as a regional facility by just a few take-offs and landings. FAA officials did not consider that one of its runways was closed for repairs and the increased activity that would occur once the runway was re-opened, he said.

The Stillwater airport, which Lynn said is packed with private jets on game days at Oklahoma State University, was downgraded because it has no jets based there. The study’s did not factor in the tens of thousands of gallons of jet fuel sold there, something that Lynn said indicates its high level of use.

“FAA officials claim this has nothing to do with funding,” Lynn said. “But if there is a funding change in the future, it would make sense that the funding might be based upon the classification instead of the activities going on at an airport.”

City Manager Greg Buckley questioned the incongruencies with the reclassification procedures. He also echoed Lynn’s concerns, saying the impact of the FAA’s asset study may materialize in the future rather than the present.

“For us, the potential is to get several years down the road, and they say all airports at this classification get this amount of funding,” Buckley said. “If there is nobody around to read the footnotes that say funding is not linked to this classification then that may be the case — we are talking about the federal government.”

Stillwater Airport Director Greg Johnson is spearheading efforts to persuade FAA officials to revisit the asset study and revise its findings.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.