$4.4 million FAA grant will help create state-of-the-art firefighting facilities

HARLINGEN — Big projects aimed at beefing up safety are under way at Valley International Airport.

The airport will use a $4.4 million Federal Aviation Administration grant to build a $3.1 million fire station, upgrade its main taxi way and improve technology.

The airport selected the projects from a five-year capital improvements plan, Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation, said yesterday.

Wren said the 10,000-square-foot fire station will replace a 40-year-old, 6,000-square-foot fire house, too small for the airport’s two new fire trucks.

“It’s going to be one of the most state-of-the-art firefighting facilities,” Wren said.

The new fire station will feature three vehicle bays, offices, six dormitories, a kitchen, a training center, a fitness room and an oxygen-refilling unit.

Wren said the training center will feature a computer simulator and video screens.

“It’s going to be a very interactive, computerized training facility,” Wren said.

Construction is set to begin in September on the nine-month project.

The grant also will fund a project to pave and paint the airport’s main taxi way, a 75-foot by 300-foot strip on which airplanes travel toward the runway, Wren said.

Wren said the work will protect the 75-year-old tarmac’s sub-grade and base, helping to add 20 to 30 years to its life.

The 45-day project is expected to start in mid September.

The grant also will fund a $250,000 upgrade of computer technology aimed at the airport’s gate and ticket counters, Wren said.

The so-called “shared user passenger processing system” will help airlines save money to check in and book passengers.

“Airlines will be able to save — they don’t have to install the computer system,” Wren said, referring to technology aimed at checking in and booking passengers. “It will bring down costs to airlines. It’s another tool the airport could use to possibly attract new airlines.”

Wren estimates the new technology will be installed next month.