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Airport unaffected by FAA shutdown

Airport unaffected by FAA shutdown

The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t affecting the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport, Manager Charity Speich said Wednesday. “It hasn’t been a major thing for us,” Speich said of the airport at 3800 Starr Ave. in Eau Claire, in far southern Chippewa County. For example, the airport’s five air controllers are employed by a contractor, not the FAA. And grants the airport receives are paid through the state. But Speich said the shutdown is showing up in work for the airport to get new grants. “Those people are not in the office,” she said. Still, since the partial shutdown only began at midnight Friday, so far it feels more like people are on vacation than part of a shutdown. Speich added that the FAA’s airport improvement grants are funded through fees aviation users pay. Associated Press reported Wednesday that the FAA furloughed nearly 4,000 workers and stopped processing about $2.5 billion in airport construction grants since the shutdown, which was caused by a legislative stalemate in the U.S. House and Senate. Republicans are proposing to cut $16.5 million in air service subsidies to rural communities through what’s called the Essential Air Service program. But Speich said the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport would not be affected by either bill introduced in the House or the Senate. Over the last several years, the airport has seen many improvements. An air traffic tower opened in the airport in 2006. “It’s done very well,” Speich said. It’s also gotten a lot of traffic. Speich said the airport has had more operations (take offs and landings) than either the La Crosse or Central Wisconsin Airport. The airport earlier this year began deploying a “boarding bridge,” meaning passengers never have to go outside while boarding the United Express aircraft serving the airport. The bridge has provided much easier access to people with disabilities or special needs, she said. A fixture on the airport property, Heartland Aviation, might be changing hands. The company handles general aviation aircraft, and was used by politicians such as Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and current Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Speich said the president of Heartland, Larry Husby, plans to retire. A Texas company, Waypoint Arrow Holdings, LLC, is interested in buying Heartland. The Chippewa Valley Regional Airport Commission formed a separate committee to look at issues around Waypoint’s acquisition of Heartland, and that panel was scheduled to meet Wednesday.

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