Friday, May 9, 2008

Airport aims to be envied for its ‘green’

Technology builds from 110 years of aviation history

Express Staff Writer

The time might finally have come for a pie-in-the-sky idea to be used at a new airfield that would replace Friedman Memorial Airport in the next decade.

Airport manager Rick Baird and the field's engineering consultants will study the feasibility of installing an underground heating system to melt runway snow, thereby abandoning use of the big, fuel-guzzling diesel snow-removal machines except in emergencies. Parking the snow-removal equipment and letting a heating system do the removal would drastically reduce the airport's carbon footprint by limiting emissions of diesel fumes.

Baird discussed the idea with the airport authority during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, May 6, as part of a program to pursue "green" environmental reforms at the airport. Board member Susan McBryant, who as Hailey mayor launched environmental projects in her city, sparked the airport project.

In addition to the cost of installing a heating system under a runway of perhaps 8,000 feet at a new airport, Baird said, maintenance costs and savings on diesel fuel for snow-removal equipment would be worked into the calculations. If a runway temperature could be maintained just above freezing, it would also have a noticeable impact on the useful life of the runway.

No existing airport is believed to have a heated runway, Baird said.

Baird said the authority members' "eyes are wide open" to all possibilities for the greening of a new airport as well as of Friedman. He pointed out that airport technology now has the benefit of 110 years of aviation history to draw on for ideas and improvements.

Baird told the board that when he casually mentioned the idea of a heated runway for the new field during a meeting of airport officials at a Northwestern states conference sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration, several airport managers quickly asked about buying Friedman's snow-removal equipment.

Board member Ron Fairfax, an aircraft owner, pointed out that the current FAA control system of "step" landing approaches to airports—that is, pilots' being instructed to descend and hold a certain altitude, then descend to other altitudes and hold until reaching the field—wastes fuel. Baird said a "continuous descent approach" system in which aircraft maintain a steady descent has been proposed often by airport owners and pilots and could be adopted in the future.

Another possible innovation to save fuel and reduce air pollution is use of ground power units (GPUs) plugged into parked airline and corporate aircraft for their onboard electrical needs. Currently, large aircraft use fuel-burning auxiliary power units (APUs) that are associated with aircraft engines.

Michael Rasch, chief financial officer for Atlantic Aviation/Sun Valley, said his operation has saved considerable fuel since the predecessor company, Sun Valley Aviation, moved from Friedman's northeast corner to the southwest corner, thus eliminating the need for ramp tugs to pull aircraft from one side of the field to a parking place on the other side.

Blaine County Commissioner Lawrence Schoen, who attends the authority meetings as a spectator, wondered if corporate aircraft, which he called symbols of "conspicuous consumption," should operate with more than one or two passengers to save on fuel. Rasch pointed out that many of the corporate aircraft arriving at Friedman are full, but in the end owners of private aircraft cannot be told how many passengers to carry. Schoen agreed.

Baird said several immediate environmental reforms would be implemented, such as providing crews of arriving airliners and corporate jets with containers to recycle cans, bottles and paper products.

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