Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pullman/Moscow Regional Airport (KPUW), Washington: Runway does not meet Federal Aviation Administration standards

Large charter and commercial planes cannot land at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport unless it realigns its runway to meet standards, authorities said.

The close proximity between the runway and the taxiway presents a problem with the current airfield. This causes the wings of large planes to extend into the taxiway when landing, said Executive Director of Airport Services Tony Bean.

Not only does this violate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) policy, but the airport currently has to shut down all other operations when jets land.

The FAA has agreed to give the airport $54 million in grants to help with the realignment. But, due to federal law, the community must cover ten percent of the costs, and the Pullman-Moscow airport has to come up with $6 million, Bean said.

The airport has tried to upgrade its runway for nearly 20 years now, he said.

The length of the runway needs to increase from 6,700 feet to 7,100 feet, according to the runway realignment project’s documents.

The airport also has other issues it would like to fix simultaneously, Bean said. For one thing, the runway sits in a bowl and directly in line with Moscow Mountain. This makes landings difficult for pilots because the high terrain blocks visibility.

“We have 124 cancellations a year, which means meals that aren’t being eaten here and hotel rooms which aren’t being rented,” he said. “It’s bad for businesses.”

If they turn the runway at an angle to its current position they can reduce the minimum distance requirement for pilots to make a judgment on whether they can see the runway and feel comfortable enough to land, said Glenn Johnson, chair of the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport Board.

This can also help with emergency situations, increasing the likelihood that medical crews can land and possibly save lives, Johnson said.

“At one point we had roughly four to five medical transfers a week,” he said.

For now, the FAA has granted the airport a waiver called a Modification to Design Standards to land planes like the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320, with the condition that the airport works toward a long-term solution, Bean said.

However, he said the airport faces several obstacles that could prevent it from finishing the project.
One, they will have to relocate Airport Creek which currently runs through a tunnel under the airfield, he said.

They will also need to mitigate the impact of extending the airfield to local wetlands, he said.

Bean said the extension of the runway also interferes with the state’s future plans of constructing a State Highway 276 corridor connecting Moscow-Pullman Highway to Highway 26.

And finally they will have to procure some of the land from the surrounding property owners, such as wheat farmers and WSU, he said.

The airport’s runway realignment plan is currently undergoing an environmental assessment, which will come out in 2014, according to the project documents. If they get the go-ahead they plan to start construction that year and finishing by 2018.

“The region is growing and the airport is limiting that growth,” Bean said.


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