The city airport may have had some setbacks with budget cuts to projected upgrades, but a federal grant is making up for the losses.
Tahlequah City Municipal Airport Manager Kelly Crittenden was hired in July 2018 to replace retired manager Greg Blish.
“I’m new to the job as an airport manager, but I’m not new to aviation,” said Crittenden. “I worked as a professional pilot for about 35 years.”
He received his aviation education at Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology and has more than 13,000 hours of flight experience.
The city airport has 63 based aircraft and a 5,000-foot runway that accommodates almost all light jet traffic.
While the airport brings in people for tourism and pilot practice, it also serves as a relief outlet for Tulsa and Fayetteville. Although it’s a rare occurrence, when those planes experience an emergency, they are diverted to Tahlequah.
During a June 3 meeting, the City Council approved a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that will provide a taxiway lighting system to make it easier for pilots to maneuver after they land.
“We basically have a five-year program and we use that grant money for the projects that we come up with or we think we need improvement on,” said Crittenden. “We get $150,000 every year from the grant program that the federal government puts out, and we can bank that money for about three or four years and build it up to where we can do some nice projects.”
The current grant dollar amount for the lighting system is $119,000, with a match from the FAA. The FAA will pay 90 percent, while the city pays 10 percent, or $11,900. Estimated construction cost is between $500,000 and $600,000.
“Usually the city doesn’t have the money to maintain these little airports, and the feds want to maintain a federal airway system, so they provide this grant money and the airports can keep their facilities in good shape,” said Crittenden.
The airport did see a few cuts in its budget this year, and Crittenden said he will adapt and make ends meet. Funds from the FAA grant cannot contribute to a fuel system upgrade that made the cut.
“The city spends money on more of your day-to-day expenses and the big projects are taken care of with the grant money. We were planning on an upgrade to our fuel system because we put this in about 20 year ago. There’s definitely a need to upgrade, and that all got cut,” said Crittenden.
The manager said he feels comfortable having to make the changes and plans to do what he must do to keep the airport growing.