Senate budget puts $90 million into regional airports

While the N.C. House prepares to release it’s budget later in the week, the one the N.C. Senate approved early Friday morning contained $90 million in state money for regional airports across the state. Senators say the funding is to bring infrastructure up to speed and keep the state’s economy moving. Part of the money is from taxes paid on rental cars that used to go into the state’s General Fund. Under the Senate’s budget it would go into the State Highway Fund for airports.

It represents a big shift because for years airports in N.C. have been funded primarily through federal money collected by taxes on tickets. With ticket prices stagnating, federal funding is drying up.

“We are talking about a serious economic driver and it hasn’t had to be a state priority because it’s been a federal funding issue,” said Ches McDowell, lobbyist for the N.C. Airport Association.

“We have to fundamentally change how airports are funded; that’s what the legislature has made a priority to do,” McDowell added. “Sen. [Bill] Rabon, especially, believes that airports are a big part of transportation infrastructure and a part of creating jobs in manufacturing and other industries here.”

Among the allocations would be more than $2 million for the Fayetteville Regional Airport, $14.3 million for Piedmont Triad International Airport, and $52.6 million for Raleigh-Durham International Airport toward runway improvements. The other airports say that they plan to improve taxiway lighting and make runway and ramp improvements. Wilmington International Airport would get nearly $12 million for their proposed $80 million improvement program that includes a terminal expansion and a parking garage. Charlotte Douglas International Airport was not listed among those airports to receive funds but could be in future allocations.

Eamon Queeney | North State Journal
An American Airlines flight lands at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Friday, May 19, 2017. The North Carolina Senate has proposed a budget that contains $90 million in state money for regional airports across the state to improve infrastructure at RDU for example.

At Raleigh-Durham Internaional Airport, just outside the state’s capital city, airport officials say the money is critical to keep up with the increasing demands for international flights. They say that they will put the money toward a $300 million project to replace the main runway. RDU serves 11 million travelers a year and 30,000 a day. If the runway is not replaced, officials say, nonstop flights to the West Coast, London and Paris could be at risk.

“This is welcome news to airports, communities and travelers around the state, who deserve a safe and efficient aviation system,” said Michael Landguth, president and CEO of RDU. “The federal funding system alone cannot be relied upon to help our state compete for jobs and business investment.”

McDowell says the funds are part of a long-term strategy to invest in key infrastructure to make N.C. more appealing to companies considering relocating to the state and bringing high-paying jobs. According to site selectors, connectivity in airports is a critical factor. N.C.’s airports are also used for military housed in the state.

“This indicates that N.C. absolutely does not play around when we are talking about our infrastructure,” said McDowell. “You can’t look at infrastructure as one thing, like we should spend money on highways not airports, seaports, not rail. It’s all connected, and the legislature is making a serious investment in all these modes. It’s all a part of the puzzle.”

The money would be distributed to airports over two years, $40 million next year and $50 million the following, and could be spent on improvements or to pay debt services or other finance costs.

The Senate passed the measure as part of their budget 32-15 in a vote taken Friday in the very early hours. The House has reportedly already completed their part of the transportation plan and is expected to release their full budget later in the week.

How many drones are in your neighborhood? Now it might be harder to tell


Nearly 5,000 recreational drone users in the Triangle had registered their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration as of February.

But a federal appeals court said last week that these pilots no longer have to do so. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down an FAA rule that requires recreational drone users to register their aircraft, siding with John A. Taylor, a drone hobbyist in the Washington, D.C., area.

While the ruling was a victory for hobbyists, Triangle airplane pilots and commercial drone users say it will create a lack of accountability.

“I thought it was a very bad decision because the regulation requiring them to register was the only control they had,” local pilot Jim Kilpatrick said.

Last month, Kilpatrick was flying with the Bandit Flight Team, a Triangle-based group that performs national anthem flyovers at local sporting events, when a drone flew among the team’s six planes, narrowly missing two of them.

The planes were flying at 1,000 feet – well above the 400-foot maximum altitude that drones are allowed to fly.

Because of the court ruling on May 19, Kilpatrick is concerned that more drones will take to the skies without their operators understanding airspace rules.

“There are people flying these drones that have no aviation experience or background, and they’re flying them in the airspace and they don’t really know anything about aviation or airspace requirements,” he said.

The FAA cited safety concerns as the reason it began to require registration in 2015. Registration is a way to give drone pilots a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions and provide them with the rules of flight, according to the FAA.

About 19,000 hobbyists had registered their drones in North Carolina as of February 2017. Map shows the number registered in Wake County.

“The FAA put registration and operational regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats,” the FAA said in a statement. “We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision.”

The N.C. Department of Transportation already is working to educate drone pilots about federal and state rules and will continue doing so in the wake of the court decision.

“Our priority is to educate operators so they are safe and responsible when flying drones,” NCDOT spokeswoman Carly Olexik said.

Drones in the Triangle

About 1.1 million recreational drones had been registered nationwide at the end of 2016. If the registration requirement is restored, that number could triple to more than 3.5 million by 2021, according to FAA projections.

About 19,000 hobbyists had registered their drones in North Carolina as of February. In the Triangle, hobbyists account for 92 percent of the more than 5,000 drone registrations with the FAA.

But this does not account for all of the drones in the Triangle.

Before the appeals court ruling, hobbyists were required to register with the FAA every three years at a cost of $5. They were required to place their issued identification number on all their drones. A hobbyist could have any number of drones but would register only once.

But even before May 19, not all drones needed to be registered. Drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds weren’t required to be registered, and those make up a large portion of starter drones, which can cost $100 or less.

Unlike hobbyists, commercial drone users must register each drone, and the court ruling did not change that.

Future identification

Last year, Congress directed the FAA to develop identification standards to remotely identify and track drones during operation, and the FAA has announced that it will create a new committee to write these standards.

DJI, the world’s largest consumer drone company, has proposed a system of electronic “license plates” for drones to allow authorities to identify drone owners when necessary. Anyone with a proper radio receiver could obtain the drone’s registration number through transmissions from the drone, but only law enforcement officials or aviation regulators would be able to use that registration number to identify the owner, according to DJI.

But remote identification is still early in the process, said Kyle Snyder, director of the NextGen Air Transportation Consortium at N.C. State.

“I think the FAA needs some way of being able to track who is flying,” Snyder said. “So I think this (ruling) is going to back us up a little but, but with the FAA working on the electronic identification rules, I think we will continue to see this evolve.”

June 24 25 IFR Class in Greensboro

Enjoy the summer, spread the word!  The next private pilot ground school will be July 15 and 16.

·        What: Instrument Ground School

·        When: Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25, 8AM to 5PM

·        Where: 534 Air Harbor Rd., Greensboro, NC 27455

·        Guarantee:  I guarantee students pass the instrument written; if they do not pass, I work with them one-on-one until they do pass

  • Items to Bring: An E6B, pocket calculator, and something to write with.  We do have E6Bs for sale at our cost of $11.00
  • Extras: We provide doughnuts and coffee for breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch, and we also have soft drinks and water
  • Cost: $300.00 Cash or Check: Make checks payable to: Zenda Liess
  • We collect the fee the first morning before class
  • To Register: Call or e-mail (see contact information below)

Zenda Liess
534 Air Harbor Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27455
Home: 336 286-5218
Cell: 336 324-9595


Laid-off plant worker soars to new career as commercial pilot

After being let go from his job building parts for Ford trucks, Victor Dukuh decided to pursue his dream of being a pilot.

Commercial airline pilot Victor Dukuh recalls how only a few short years ago, his life changed after he was let go from his position at a plant building parts for Ford trucks.

“When I was laid off,” he said, “instead of seeing it as a major blow, I chose to see it as an opportunity to pursue my lifelong dream of being a pilot.”

In 1998, Dukuh and his family left Ghana in West Africa. They settled in North Carolina and began working hard to achieve their piece of the American dream. Even as he worked 12-hour night shifts in the manufacturing plant, Dukuh was developing a plan to become a pilot.

“I spent hours in my off-time practicing on the Microsoft Flight Simulator,” he recalled. “This software let me practice flying and landing different common aircrafts, and showed me I had the ability to actually do this.”


Dukuh said he began doing online research to find the best path to becoming a pilot in the Triad area of North Carolina. This led him to apply for an associate’s degree program at Guilford Tech Community College.

After being accepted, he began to study and train for a career in aviation through the program. Local flight schools covered parts of the training outside of class, and certifications he received would then count as credits towards the degree.

When asked about his time at GTCC, Dukuh said, “It’s the professors that make the program so successful. They are dedicated to the students and to the school.”

After graduation, Dukuh took a 90-day course to become a flight instructor, adding to his training. The Triad Aviation Academy hired him on as an instructor, where he enjoyed three years of experience training prospective pilots. He said it was a rewarding job as he was able to help others achieve their dreams to become certified pilots, just as he had recently done.


In February 2014, however, Dukuh decided it was time to move on and joined Mesa Airlines as a commercial pilot.

Mesa Airlines provides crew to American Airlines and United Airlines. They have bases in Washington, D.C., Dallas, Houston and Phoenix. He has now reached the rank of captain and flies a CRJ-900 out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

“I’d encourage people interested to look into becoming a pilot,” Dukuh remarked when asked about life as a pilot. “There is a lot of demand, and [GTCC] is considered one of the best places to get your start.”

Dukuh said he is grateful to GTCC and its associate’s degree in Aviation Management and Career Pilot Technology Program for making his dream of becoming a pilot a reality.

“I’m now really happy with my career in the aviation field and see being laid off from the plant as a blessing in disguise.”