Revisiting a story in which remarkably there has been steady progress rather than local politicians expelling lots of hot air, Inyo County, working closely with the City of Bishop, is readying to provide passenger air service at the Bishop Airport by November, 2020. That is, if everything continues to go as planned, says Inyo County Administrative Officer Clint Quilter.
In a telephone conversation, Inyo County District 2 Supervisor Jeff Griffiths appeared to mirror Quilter’s optimism, as later did the Inyo County Public Works Director Michael Errante, and Engineering Assistant Ashley Helms, who is tasked with spearheading the effort and keeping everything moving on track.
Griffiths told The Sheet that, “We’re in very close contact with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Two months ago, we met up with some very high-up people at the FAA back east and had regional FAA staff on the phone. Everyone was incredibly supportive of our efforts.
“There’s an excellent chance for us to obtain some significant funding that is available for improvement to rural airports and we are one of the few that meets the requirements in our region.”
The “significant funding” Griffiths is referring to is $1 billion in a bill signed into law by President Trump on March 23, 2018, known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. The legislation provided the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP) an additional $1 billion in discretionary grants, to enable the Secretary of Transportation to offer grants for projects.
What has local officials excited is that the Act also stipulated that the Secretary shall give priority consideration to projects at: (a) nonprimary airports that are classified as Regional, Local, or Basic airports and not located within a Metropolitan or Micropolitan Statistical Area as defined by the Office of Management and Budget; or (b) primary airports that are classified as Small or Nonhub airports. Bishop and Lone Pine’s airports are the only ones in the district eligible for those funds.
Inyo County Supervisor Griffiths said that, “We (Inyo County) are going through the environmental process and requesting additional funding. It’s a competitive process, but it looks good for us. And the timing couldn’t be better. Experts are excited and say that there is great potential for the whole region. We are very optimistic about our timeframe.”
An aggressive airport maintenance and construction improvement plan by Inyo County with the supportive cooperation of the Town of Mammoth Lakes—at least in that it is not in opposition—combined with the potential supplemental financial support of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), appears to be pushing the airport project forward at a steady pace.
Meanwhile, Mammoth has abandoned its proposed $30 million airport terminal expansion project.
Since 2013, $7.9 million worth of work has been spent on improvements at the Bishop Airport. Regular FAA Funding already provided to airports, along with matching county funds have provided for the improvement projects that have included lighting fixes and runway repairs.
According to Quilter in a meeting with the Inyo County Board of Supervisors in September 2017, “…testing of the runways proved them to incredibly strong and more than capable of handling some very big commercial aircraft.” That is not surprising as the airport was originally built for military use to accommodate refueling of large military aircraft during WWII.
Since 2017, $1.8 million has been spent to rehabilitate the aircraft parking apron, repairs to pavement cracks, pavement sealing and paint markings, as well as installation of terminal area security fencing completed in March 2017 at a cost of $1.6 million. The improvement projects will continue as additional funding becomes available.
According to the Public Works Department, the Part 139 Airport Certification Manual (ACMM) draft has been completed by the Wadell Engineering Corporation for Inyo County and it has already submitted and reviewed by the FFA and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). A couple of changes and suggestions were made construction and improvements. Essentially already approved, the ACM will satisfy the FAA’s requirement for final approval for official approval of the certification to accept commercial aircraft.
When everything is completed, the airport should easily handle commercial passenger flights accommodating planes with 50-70 seats. With Allegiant Airlines having already expressed interest in providing regular passenger service to Bishop, another requirement by the FAA was met.
According to Inyo County Public Works, future improvements will include taxiway rehabilitation this summer or late-August or early-September. Bids are going out next week. Subject to funding, there will be more space added to the existing terminal building and down the road, a dedicated passenger terminal may be in the future as well.
All-in-all, things are looking good for commercial air service coming to Bishop in the fall of 2020.