Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Report: Airport modifications will be costly

Consultant estimates project will cost $38.4M to $149.4M


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Courtesy graphic One option for airport modification, shown above, would not require moving state Highway 75 and would cost an estimated $38.4 million. However, airport officials say that this option would cause the airport to lose valuable facilities such as hangars and aircraft parking.

Changing the existing airport’s layout to accommodate C-III class aircraft for commercial service could cost anywhere from $38.4 million to $149.4 million, according to aviation consultants.

Dave Mitchell, spokesman for aviation consulting firm T-O Engineers, presented a final draft of the technical analysis for seven ways to change the current airport design in a meeting of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Though Mitchell had already gone over a similar report, the new report included information from the Idaho Transportation Department about the complexities of moving the highway, as well as cost analyses of each of the seven options. The new draft also eliminated a previous option to move the runway south 500 feet, as Mitchell stated that the impacts were very similar to another option—moving the runway 1,700 feet to the south. 

Friedman Memorial Airport is required by congressional mandate to bring its runway safety into compliance with C-III standards by the end of 2015.

Four of the options contemplate full compliance with all C-III design standards—that is, the airport would be able to accept planes with larger wingspans and faster approaching speeds than currently allowed without special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.

However, those options also would require either moving Highway 75 or modifying the standards that govern the airport’s “Obstacle Free Zone,” an area that needs to remain clear when aircraft are landing or taking off.

Mitchell said that moving the highway itself would run anywhere from $14.7 million to $37 million, depending on the amount of property that would need to be acquired.

He said that another option—stopping traffic on the highway and clearing a 2.5-mile area of the highway each time a C-III aircraft lands or takes off—was discussed with the Idaho Transportation Department. 

Four different traffic lights at Aviation Drive, Fox Acres Road, Woodside and Countryside boulevards would need to be synchronized in order to clear the highway and meet specifications.

“The idea was to sterilize the highway,” Mitchell said. “Needless to say, ITD has some concerns about this,” mainly traffic congestion in cities due to the backup as well as emergency vehicle and school bus access to the highway during those periods.

Mitchell said this option is not being studied further.

Two full-compliance options do not require moving the highway: One contemplates moving the entire runway and airport facilities to the west, and one contemplates moving the runway and taxiways to the south into the Flying Hat Ranch.

“The hangars, the terminal, it would all have to be rebuilt,” he said, adding that the process would not be completed until 2019, past the airport’s 2015 deadline.

The former option would cost $147.6 million, $83.8 million of which would be spent on property acquisition and airport facility relocation.

The latter would cost $135.5 million initially, but Mitchell said that the airport also might need to move its terminal and facilities as well as the runways and taxiways to operate more efficiently.

The only two options that could be completed before the congressional deadline do not bring the airport into full compliance—but Mitchell said that the FAA may be willing to modify a few standards in order to consider the airport compliant.

The first of these two options, known as alternative six, involves no expansion to the airport’s footprint. It is also the cheapest option, coming in at $38.4 million, but the airport would lose a significant amount of aircraft parking and hangar space.

Mitchell said that option seven, coming in at $60 million, combines some of the benefits of option six, but requires moving the highway slightly north within its existing right of way, moving parking and hangars and acquiring some land from the Flying Hat Ranch.

“The idea here is just to expand enough to accommodate what had been lost,” Mitchell said.

The final draft has been submitted to the FAA, Mitchell said, and will be finalized in the coming weeks based on comments from the FAA and the airport authority. Both county and city representatives said they would discuss the options in more detail at the authority’s December meeting.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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