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Federal budget cuts are playing havoc with attempts to fix the unreliable lights along the main runway at Ogden-Hinckley Airport.

The lights have not worked properly since they were struck by lightning nearly three years ago, said Jeremy Taylor, airport manager. About two times a month, moisture causes the lights on one side of the runway to vary in intensity from lights on the other side, he said.Pilots use what is essentially a dimmer switch to control the intensity, but they often are not able to make the intensity of lights the same on both sides, he said.

Barry Banks, aviation planner for the Wasatch Front Regional Council said, "It distorts your perception of the runway, and that's not the kind of thing you want to happen when you're trying to land."

The airport keeps one of the two other runways open at night in case a pilot cannot adjust the main runway's lights sufficiently.

However, the main runway is longer - 8,000 feet to the other runways' 5,400 feet - and it has the airport's only instrument landing system.

Banks said Ogden's runway lights are at the top of the priority list for the Federal Aviation Administration district based in Denver.

However, Congress made dramatic cuts in FAA spending this year, and there's no telling when the money will come through for Ogden, he said. The council handles all airport system planning for the Utah Department of Transportation, the conduit for FAA funds.

The federal authorization bill last year provided $2.1 billion for airport improvement projects, but only $1.45 billion was appropriated, Banks said. Of that, just 5 percent went to airports that are considered "relievers" to major airports, the category that includes Ogden.

Ogden has close to 100,000 operations each year, which includes every take-off and landing, he said. "It's a very busy airport." Repairs would cost $250,000.

The unreliable lights have not been blamed for any accidents or near-misses, he said. "It's more of a nuisance, but it's getting to the state where it's a concern."

The airport serves mainly small general aviation aircraft but also is used by area airlines for training and by F-16 fighter jets based at Hill Air Force Base.