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Federal funds to make airport's flights safer

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing $9.2 million for improvement projects that are expected to make flights safer, more efficient and more reliable, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"This airport handles an enormous volume of ... air traffic, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act," said Randy Babbitt, administrator for the FAA, during a press conference, Friday, at the airport. "I am happy to say that we are continuing to improve capabilities ... not only in this airport, but the surrounding areas as well."

According to Babbitt, $5 million of the federal funds will be invested in improvements to the 9,000-foot-long Runway 27L, at Hartsfield-Jackson. Construction workers will use 2,400 feet of the runway to install a new, approach lighting system. The system will provide visual information to pilots as they approach the runway during bad weather, he said.

"These hundreds and hundreds of lights will show a path to the runway, bringing better visibility to the pilots," he said. In addition, the lighting system will improve the airport's capacity, operational capability and safety, said Babbitt.

Kathleen Bergen, communications manager for the Southeast region of the FAA, said the project is expected to be completed by April 2011.

"Landing is one of the most critical phases of flight," added Babbitt, in a written statement. "This approach lighting system will give pilots an extra layer of safety," he said. "The Recovery Act is responsible for safety enhancement and upgrades at airports and FAA facilities nationwide."

Babbitt said that, when improvements are made in airports like Hartsfield-Jackson, the upgrades will ripple through the FAA's entire national airspace system.

The Recovery Act funds will also provide more than $1.5 million to install a new engine-generator system for the FAA's airport traffic control tower, said Bergen.

"The tower now has two engine-generator systems, which will ensure essential back-up power for air traffic control operations at the world's busiest airport," she said.

Bergen said the system will supply on-site power to the Atlanta control tower, if both commercial power sources fail during harsh weather. The control tower is able to operate all of the air traffic control equipment at full capacity, when solely powered by the engine-generator systems, she said.

"ARRA [Recovery Act] also funded a $2.6 million power-distribution system for the National Network Control Center, in Hampton, Ga., which processes pilot-flight plans," said Bergen.

The new system includes, two commercial power feeds, a standby generator, and two uninterruptible power systems, with battery back-ups, said the spokeswoman.

It is essential to keep a fully-functioning control center, because it's crucial to efficient operations of the national airspace system, added Bergen.

"These projects are just a few examples of the terrific work being done around the country, thanks to the Recovery Act," said U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, in a prepared statement. "Construction workers and engineers are helping to modernize and repair our nation's commercial and general aviation airports."

Babbitt explained that the $9.2 million in funding is in addition to the $13.9 million in Recovery Act money the airport received last year for construction of an apron --a parking area for aircraft -- at the Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., International Terminal.

"I look forward to seeing increased airport efficiency as a result of the investments that have been made here, not only for the air transportation system, but to the City of Atlanta as well," said Babbitt.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said that in addition to airport improvements, the Recovery Act funding will provide individuals with "good-paying" jobs. "Without this plan, many other airport authorities may not have had the resources to hire workers and get projects underway," said Reed. "That is what we've done at Hartsfield-Jackson, with the help of FAA and the Obama administration."

During a press conference, the mayor was asked when he will ultimately choose a permanent aviation general manager for the airport. Reed said five names have already been selected, and he will be conducting interviews all day on Monday, Aug. 16. Former Aviation General Manager Ben DeCosta's successor is expected to be announced approximately a week after the interviews, he said.