Sunday, April 21, 2024

A long-awaited discussion

Staff Writer | December 4, 2020 1:00 AM

Coeur d'Alene Airport/Pappy Boyington Field administration and hangar owners sparred in a meeting Thursday evening over the necessity and futility of decoupling the airport's two runways.

Since becoming aware of the decoupling project, which was finalized in the Airports 2017 and 2019 Master Plan, hangar owners have expressed apparent defiance to the pavement removal. In addition to general aircraft pilots dissent, companies that house their multi-engine and jet planes at the airport felt their abilities to operate would be cut short.

Keith Lang, aviation director for the Hagadone Corporation, led the protesting pilots Thursday with a presentation highlighting the project's adverse impacts on safety, economy, and operation. One point, he noted, was that if runway 2-20 is shortened by the proposed 1,000 feet, medium and large size jets would be severely limited.

"While it is true that many airports only have one runway to utilize, this airport is fortunate enough to have two," Lang said. "If for any reason 6-24 is closed, no large jet aircraft will be able to operate in and out of Coeur d'Alene during the time of closure."

When the Airport Master Plan was developed several years ago, Steven Kjergaard, the airport director, said a survey was distributed among stakeholders for their opinion. Lang, who has worked with the Hagadone Aviation Department since the early 2000s, said he never received the survey.

"We consider ourselves a major stakeholder, even if the airport management does not see it that way," Lang's letter said. "I've heard more times than I can count directly from my principal, that if it was not for this airport, the Hagadone Corporation and all of its properties would not be based here."

Multiple other hangar owners said they had not received a survey or were aware of public hearings on the decoupling. Kjergaard, as well as the Kootenai County board of commissioners communications manager Nancy Jones, pointed out that the meetings were published online at the county website and the airport Facebook page, among other avenues.

Despite hangar upset, Kjergaard and FAA administration have repeatedly said the decoupling project is necessary for the airport. Disconnecting coupled runways like 2-20 and 6-24 have become a national initiative for the FAA after it was linked as a direct cause to the Comair Flight 5191 crash in 2006, which killed 41 passengers.

Without redesigning the runways in a way accepted by the FAA, the airport would not receive Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for other site developments.

Much of the pilots' complaints stem from their belief that the Master Plan's other alternative extending the two runways would be a more viable improvement for developing the runway instead of cutting 2-20 to 4,400 feet.

Unfortunately, J.R. Norville, an engineer with T.O. Engineering, said that option was not likely to be eligible for the FAA funding because of the wind coverage and airport use.

"We have to follow FAA design standards," Norville said. "The likelihood of AIP eligibility is very low, with the exception of shortening runway 2-20."

In a letter sent to Commissioner Bill Brooks by Steve Engebrecht, the acting manager of the FAA Helena Airports Direct Office, Engebrecht said this project is supported for many safety reasons expected under the FAA Advisory Circular (A.C.). Furthermore, because the airport had used over $500,000 AIP funding to draft its Master Plan and the county has already accepted more than $460,000 in grant funding this year for the planned improvements, it is expected to be completed.

"FAA is supportive of the County's plan to address these safety issues and has planned substantial AIP funding in the next five years to address these safety issues as reflected in the Airport's capital improvement program," Engebrechts letter said. "There has been significant time and effort into planning the safety improvements realized from decoupling the runway ends and reconfiguration of related taxiways at COE."

As the conversation came to a close, many hangar owners expressed their difficulty supporting the airport's decoupling project and leadership. Though the project will continue to move forward as planned, with a tentative break ground date in 2022, Lang believed this kind of discussion was a step in the right direction.

"This is probably the most engaging meeting we've had with airport management," he said. "I think it warrants more of this. I think we may have been a little asleep at the wheel but now out eyes are wide open."

Moving forward, Kjergaard said he is committed to working with the pilots and the county commissioners on airport issues.