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Airport Master Plan takes shape

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Runway Safety Area: Option could have encroached in neighborhood

By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos Airport may not look much different in 20 years.

So says Airport Manager Peter Soderquist, based on an analysis by Delta Airport Consultants (DAC), a firm specializing in airport master plans.

The master plan study is being conducted in order to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recommendation that airports update their master plan every seven to 10 years.

The most recent master plan assessment was conducted in1994. Los Alamos County assumed operating control of the airport from the Department of Energy (DOE) in 1996, and the property was deeded to the county in 2008.

“This is primarily a way to increase the safety of the airport and prepare it for the future,” Soderquist said.
DAC presented their initial findings — which included an inventory of airport resources, forecasts for the future, estimates of facility needs and alternatives for providing those — at a public workshop June 20.

Approximately 40 people attended, predominantly Eastern area residents concerned about one alternative for creating a runway safety zone (RSA).

The safety zone — along with several other aspects of the current design — does not meet FAA standards. That is due to the fact that the airport was constructed by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947 and under DOE control until 1994.

The DOE did not have to comply with FAA standards.

DAC presented three alternatives for creating the approximately 300-foot safety zone to meet FAA requirements. Option A involved expanding into the residential area on the eastern side. Option B would have removed 300 feet of the newly constructed $6 million runway. Option C uses a method called “declared distances,” which “shortens” the length of the runway in all information pilots can access.

“We’re telling the world that when you land, the runway is not 6,000 feet long. The runway is actually 5,772 feet,” Soderquist said. “Here’s what’s cool about it. The pavement — which you and I know is there — is legally available for takeoff. Technically, it’s available for landing. This is a way of meeting the 300-foot safety area, and now we are in compliance.”

The 20-person planning advisory committee unanimously supported option C, and rejected any option that would negatively impact Eastern area residents.

Residents attending the workshop were alarmed that Option A was even being considered. Soderquist said that having all three alternatives is important for getting FAA approval for the plan.

“RSA is almost sacrosanct in the eyes of the FAA. It’s very important,” Soderquist said. “They will grant a lot of waivers to a lot of things, but I don’t think they grant waivers for RSA’s.”

Being able to say that Option A was explored and soundly rejected by both the committee and the community strengthens the county’s case for the declared alternative.

Other proposed changes are substantial but do not significantly alter the character or function of the airport.

The hangars are too close to the runway. Three alternatives for moving those closer to the canyon were proposed. The main difference between the plans is cost and how the changes would be phased in.

All three alternatives add a taxiway running the length of the airport. Currently planes must taxi to the end of the runway then turn around to begin their run.

None of the alternatives would significantly increase the size of the aircraft landing here. The airport is currently classified A-1, which means the majority of its traffic is from the smallest class of airplane, although it can accommodate small jets.

The proposed improvements could slightly modify the classification to A-2, but physical restrictions on the runway — with the Eastern area neighborhood on one end and the canyon on the other - plus the high altitude, make any significant expansion virtually impossible.

DAC is currently working on more specific alternatives, based on input from the committee and the public. Another public workshop will be scheduled when those are complete. The FAA must approve any proposed master plan.