Virginia’s busiest general aviation airport is looking for momentum behind a proposed multimillion-dollar control tower and is finding fresh support in Congress.
The current 124-foot tower at Manassas Regional Airport is slowly deteriorating and no longer offers the best sightlines for air traffic controllers, said director Juan Rivera. Officials hope to enter into an agreement with the Federal Aviation Authority to fund a replacement. Rivera said a new tower would cost around $8 million.
The airport is the 145th busiest in the country, handling 238 takeoffs or landings a day, according to the FAA. A 2017 study by the Virginia Department of Aviation found that the Manassas airport created $375 million of economic activity the year prior, with 1,351 aviation jobs and wages totaling $117 million.
But the airport’s hand-me-down tower (Manassas bought it in 1992 from a small airport in Colorado) is almost 60 years old, according to Rivera. It’s too small for some of the new equipment the FAA recommends and the structure itself is deteriorating, suffering leaks and a persistent bee issue.
“We’re constantly fighting the battle of bringing the Orkin man in to keep it under control,” Rivera said. “Every year we’re sinking money into a facility that really has outlasted its useful life.”
The airport will soon pay about $50,000 to replace the tower’s roof and catwalk, money that Rivera says is hard to recoup with the FAA paying only $15,576 a year to lease the facility. The director said he’d like to renegotiate the agreement, but in order to do so the facility would have to be upgraded to more recent FAA standards. That, according to Rivera, is impossible to do with the current tower.
On Monday, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th District, came to lend her support, getting an up close look at the tower and meeting with Rivera to discuss next steps. Wexton said she was there to learn how Congress might be able to persuade the FAA to help with the tower.
“This airport plays a very important role in terms of training and location for a lot of our national security folks,” Wexton said. “So I think it is an important thing for us to take up at the federal level.”
According to Rivera, the FAA would first need to conduct a study at a cost of about $500,000 to determine the recommended height, location and price for a new tower. From there, Rivera sees two paths: The FAA could either fund, build, maintain and operate the new tower, or it could enter into an agreement with the city in which a bond issued for the cost of the tower would be repaid by the authority.
Wexton said she planned to take what she saw back to Washington to vouch for the project’s necessity.
“There’s certainly a desire to move forward on infrastructure, that’s something we’re getting cooperation on across the aisle. The only issue is how are we going to pay for it?” Wexton said. “... [Next] I move forward with the FAA and the Department of Transportation and see if there’s a way that we can move this project up the list.”