Friday, April 12, 2013

Airport upgrades hit stumbling block

FAA may not approve runway separation

Express Staff Writer

A plan for improvements at Friedman Memorial Airport’s current site hit a roadblock this month when a consultant said the Federal Aviation Administration might not approve elements of the proposed design.

During an Airport Authority meeting Tuesday, Dave Mitchell, corporate vice president of consulting firm T-O Engineers, said he has been discussing plans to bring the airport into compliance with FAA design standards. 

The plan is to relocate and extend the airport’s taxiways and relocate airport hangars to bring the runway safety area into compliance with C-III standards. The approach was developed as a response to a congressional mandate that requires airports that allow the larger and faster C-III planes to have a runway safety area that complies with standards by 2015.

Though C-III aircraft—such as the Horizon Air Q400 turboprop—currently fly into Friedman Memorial Airport, they are only allowed by special agreement with the federal-contract airport control tower and the FAA.

Mitchell said most aspects of the plan have been supported by the FAA, including “modifications of standards,” procedures that would allow certain aircraft to operate at the airport even though some elements of the airport do not fit design standards.

He said the FAA has told him that the main problem is the planned separation between the runway and taxiways. The FAA requires 400 feet of separation between the two, but the plan calls for only 320 feet.

Mitchell said that based on the wingspan of planes that would be using the airport, 320 feet should be adequate, even using the FAA’s own design software. However, he said that in discussions, representatives from the FAA told him that the only way they would accept that amount of separation was if there were no planes on the taxiway when C-III planes were landing or taking off, and if no planes were on the runway when C-III planes were on the taxiway.

“There are many problems with that, but part of why we were moving the taxiway is so we didn’t have to do these things,” Mitchell said. “Operationally, this would be very difficult to manage.”

Mitchell said discussions are continuing with the FAA and he plans to argue that the restrictions, with the amount of human error involved in sterilizing the runway and taxiways, would actually be less safe than simply approving the modification.

County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg asked how runway sterilization would occur if the air traffic control tower closes as a result of lost funding from federal budget cuts. Airport Manager Rick Baird said that it was possible, but undesirable.

“It would slow this airport down to an unacceptable level,” he said. “It just wouldn’t work.”

Baird and Mitchell said they plan to meet with the FAA on April 16 and 17 to further discuss the plans.

Kate Wutz:


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