The Cost and Funding Options of an AWOS
The cost of running a safe and efficient airport is high, with many operating at a loss. It can be difficult to find room in a budget for upgrades and improvements, even in a growth year. While airports qualify for many Federal, state, and local funding options, navigating the waters of these programs can sometimes feel overwhelming. If your airport is struggling to provide accurate weather data and you require a new AWOS, you may not know what funding options are available to you.
Not only do AWOS come at a variety of different price points, depending upon how many sensors you require and how many meteorological parameters you want to track, but they also qualify for several different funding options. Since an AWOS contributes not only to the safety of an airport by providing minute-by-minute weather data, but also aids in the economic growth of one as well, they qualify not only for federal programs promoting the safety of an airport but also for economic and prosperity grants at a state and local level and the growth they can bring to a community often entices them to the private sector as well.
Selecting an AWOS System
The first step in determining the cost of your new AWOS, is to determine which system is right for your airport. FAA Certified non-Federal AWOS are available in specific configurations defined by the Federal Aviation Administration. They range from basic, low-cost systems to fully instrumented systems that automatically report nearly all aviation relevant weather conditions.
- AWOS A: Altimeter settings
- AWOS A/V: Altimeter setting and visibility.
- AWOS I: Wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, and density altitude
- AWOS II: Wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, density altitude, and visibility
- AWOS III: Wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, density altitude, visibility, precipitation accumulation, cloud height, and sky condition
- AWOS IIIP: Wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, density altitude, visibility, precipitation accumulation, cloud height, sky condition, and present weather
- AWOS IIIPT: Wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, density altitude, visibility, precipitation accumulation, cloud height, sky condition, present weather, and thunderstorm/lightning
- AWOS IV Z: Wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, density altitude, visibility, precipitation accumulation, cloud height, sky condition, present weather, thunderstorm/lightning, and freezing rain
Most airports find they require at least an AWOS-III for their purposes.
The installed system cost will vary depending upon the system level and whether it is a new system or a replacement. Existing infrastructure such as concrete pads, towers, and conduit can frequently be re-used to reduce the cost of a system replacement.
How to Buy an AWOS
The FAA has certified three companies to manufacture and sell Non-Federal AWOS. Only two companies are certified to sell AWOS-II and better. All non-Federally owned AWOS systems are required by the FAA to be maintained and operated at the same high level as the Federally owned ones. It is therefore advisable to an airport when they begin the process of acquiring a new AWOS or upgrading an existing one to contact and work closely with the Non-Federal Program to ensure a smooth installation and commissioning.
Funding Options Available for AWOS
Purchasing a new FAA Certified AWOS aviation system is expensive and time consuming. For this reason, most AWOS purchases are a joint venture between an airport owner, the state department of transportation, and the Federal government through the FAA.
A Certified AWOS contributes to the safety of aircraft and pilots alike at an airport and an AWOS-III disseminates weather data to the WMSCR thus increasing weather information and overall safety of the airspace surrounding the airport. With the increase in safety comes an ability to increase the air traffic an airport handles which brings economic growth to both an airport and the community it serves. This means a new AWOS is a good candidate for several funding options at the federal, state, and local level.
When it comes to federal funding, an airport’s size is the biggest indicator of available funds. Federal grants contribute a little over 10% of the funding for the 71 largest airports in the nation but over 50% of the funding for other smaller national system airports.
The amount of revenue an airport can generate is highly specific to the geographic location and the air traffic it handles. Airports generate revenue from a variety of ways including user fees associated with parking and storing aircraft, building and hanger rentals, landing fees, and fuel flowage fees. Larger commercial airports may also have concession revenue, rental income from businesses within the terminals, advertising space, garage or car parking facilities, and Passenger Facility Charge (PFC).
The Passenger Facility Charge program is an FAA program which allows the collection of up to $4.50 for every eligible passenger who enplanes at a commercial airport controlled by public agencies. These fees are collected per flight segment with a maximum of two charges on a one-way trip and up to four charges for a round trip with a maximum of $18 per passenger trip. These fees go into a general operating fund and may be used for FAA-approved projects which enhance the safety, security, or capacity of an airport, reduce the noise levels, or increase air carrier competition. Passenger Facility Charges can be used to fund the addition or upgrade of an AWOS.
The Airport Improvement Program Grants
This grants in aid program provides federal grants to public and some private airports listed in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) for projects relating to enhancing the safety, capacity, security, and environmental concerns of America’s airports. The program grants cover 75% for large and medium primary hub airports and up to 90% for small, primary, reliever, and general aviation airports so long as their criteria are met by the sponsor and their proposal.
A grant proposal for a new or upgraded AWOS from the Airport Improvement Program must meet the following criteria:
- The project sponsorship requirements have been met.
- The project is reasonably consistent with plans for development of the area.
- Sufficient funds are available for the portion of the project not paid for by the AIP.
- The project will be completed without undue delay.
- The airport location is included in the current version of the NIPAS.
- The project involves more than $25,000 in AIP funds.
- The project is depicted on a current airport layout plan approved by the FAA.
Though the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) is often one of the best sources of funding for airports seeking to make upgrades, demand far outstrips available cash supply and to qualify for an eligible AWOS grant, a Benefit-Cost Analysis must be run by the applying sponsor. Sponsors applying for a grant from the AIP should also work closely with the Non-Federal Program from the start to increase the chance of a successful application.
Every year, local state governments through their departments of transportation spend roughly $400 million on airport development. State funding criteria vary widely across the nation depending on local priority. Many states decide where their funds will be prioritized based on need and justification, geographical location of the airport, and the likelihood of a project qualifying for federal funding. States also use their own cost-benefit analysis ratio in determining distribution of funds for eligible projects.
State funds are usually broken down with 20% going to match federally awarded grants and the remaining 80% reserved for state-only grants and loans.
State-only grants tend to weigh the likelihood of a projects’ eligibility to receive an AIP grant from the FAA when considering proposals, with projects that are less likely or ineligible taking priority. State grants also come with a series of assurances which airport sponsors must agree to. These assurances usually include protecting a state’s infrastructure investment and maintaining safe airports for passengers, pilots, and cargo alike, similarly to AIP grants.
State funds are drawn from existing fees and taxes levied on aircraft owners and airport users in each state, such as revenue generated from fuel flowage fees. Some airport development projects may qualify for economic development funds depending upon the state and project pursued.
Another possibility for funding of an AWOS system is through a local General Obligation Bond which is typically achieved by voter approval in an election. These types of municipal bonds are backed by the good faith and credit of the local public tax base residing within the jurisdiction including local sales, income, or property taxes as a source of repayment.
A local authority may also issue a Limited Obligation Revenue-Based Bond authorizing an AWOS system as a means of improving a revenue producing property. Since the addition of an AWOS can lead to safely increasing air traffic through an airport, there is room for local economic growth. Increased air traffic means an increase in rental cars, hotel stays, restaurant meals, and an increase in sales tax revenue.
If funding options from the Federal, state, and local authorities have been exhausted, private funding may also be recruited to assist in the addition or upgrade of an AWOS system. An airport may either secure a loan through a private financial institution or seek out backings from local investors and corporations who benefit from the growth of their local airport.
In these instances, airports will find themselves competing against many other departments and public works for funding in the private sector. It is therefore important for them to express the importance of the role they play in a community. An airport should emphasize their economic benefit to a region, role in emergency and disaster response, and the place of the AWOS system on the national weather map when asking for funding.
Ongoing Annual Expenses
The FAA requires Certified AWOS systems to be serviced three times per year by a qualified technician who has received verification authority by the FAA and holds an FCC GROL license. These system maintenance checks are mandatory, and the Non-Federal Program will regularly inspect the system and your records. If the maintenance is skipped or a technician underqualified for the job and lacking the proper credentials, the FAA will shut down and decommission your AWOS.
While some manufacturers only provide in-house maintainers for their AWOS and charge a premium, using a qualified and experienced third-party technician can save your airport thousands of dollars in annual expense. Mesotech supports local third-party maintainers and provides free training with installation of an AWOS.
Cost Saving Options
Just because there are funding options available doesn’t mean you have to max out the cost of a new AWOS. If you are looking at replacing an existing system or upgrading an aging model, there are cost-saving measures to consider.
- Costs may be minimized by re-purposing existing infrastructure where it is in good working condition. Concrete pads and standing towers don’t break down at the same rate as electronics and there is often no reason to tear them down and start over again.
- A system may be introduced with fewer sensors than originally anticipated to see how many will ultimately be necessary and upgraded later as demand increases thus keeping the initial cost lower.
- Supporting local, certified third-party maintainers to ensure your system stays up and running reduces annual costs and ensures that maintenance is taken care of quickly while also supporting local small businesses.
Mesotech Works With You
Mesotech’s FAA Certified Airport Weather Advisor® is one of only two certified AWOS-III systems and the only one with support for legacy equipment options available. Mesotech works with you to keep the cost in check, reusing existing infrastructure which is in good working order and offering free training with installation. Mesotech also supports third-party and independent technicians near you and our free and responsive helpdesk is staffed with engineers to assist you along the way.