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Director's Chair: Challenge Accepted

November 05, 2020 07:30 | Anonymous

COVID-19 has brought significant impacts to the aviation industry and the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission (NDAC) staff has been hard at work accepting the challenge to help our state adapt to the current and future environment that the industry is facing. 

During the Fall of each year, our planning staff, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), works to hold meetings with as many of our public-use airports as possible. This year, the meetings were held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns and we were able to meet with over 40 of our airports over a one-month time period. These meetings are designed to allow a free-flowing conversation between the local airport management, the state, and the federal government, which helps to ensure that everyone has an understanding of the current situation each airport is facing. Throughout this process, we also want to identify all of the potential airport improvement and rehabilitation projects that exist as we work to ensure that the best projects throughout the state are being prioritized. This is a critically important process, as we work to ensure that a cost-effective, safe, and growing aviation environment exists throughout all of North Dakota. 

Now that these discussions are complete, our planning staff is faced with collecting updated individual capital improvement plans from our airports. We will then work to analyze and combine the information into an updated statewide capital improvement plan that will reflect anticipated funding scenarios and project priorities over the next three years. This is an incredible challenge, as the needs always outweigh the funding availability. We also live in a time when government revenues and funding streams are currently very unpredictable. 

One significant impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had specifically on our agency, is the fact that the current and future projected oil revenues the state is receiving have dramatically dropped. Last legislative session, the state’s aviation industry was able to secure the potential of additional infrastructure funding through the passing of HB 1066, formally known as the “Operation Prairie Dog” bill. The intent of that legislation was to provide a certain level of ongoing funding certainty for infrastructure projects throughout the state and created new “buckets” of funds that are projected to fill from future oil tax revenues. These newly created funds are currently authorized to fill up to $250 million per biennium in total, distributing up to $115 million to cities, $115 million to counties and townships, and $20 million for airport infrastructure. Due to the drop in oil demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now estimated that these buckets will most likely not fill during the current biennium. This will result in major impacts to road, bridge, and airport projects all throughout the state and has prompted the need for state agencies and local municipalities to adapt to the current situation.

Our agency has also seen a significant decline in aviation fuel tax revenues since the pandemic began this past spring, though tax revenue from aircraft sales has held steady. Like many other businesses and government entities, we have been able to reduce operational expenditures during the current biennium and are working on updating forecasts for our budget that will be discussed during the upcoming legislative session. Our planning process allows our agency to fully understand the airport infrastructure needs that our state requires and allows us to educate our elected officials so that they are able to make their decisions with the best information possible. As legislative session approaches, please feel free to communicate any concerns or recommendations that you may have that could lead to a positive impact on aviation in North Dakota.

Though we are faced with some unexpected circumstances, our office gladly accepts the challenge to serve you. We will continue to work to the best of our ability to make the future of aviation in North Dakota a brighter one.

Kyle Wanner, Director

North Dakota Aeronautics Commission

701-328-9650 |

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