Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Augusta Regional Airport (KAGS) looks at replacing outdated facilities in next master plan

Although Augusta Regional Airport is projected to gain an estimated 141,000 departing passengers by 2033, an additional runway won’t be needed to meet the growth, according to consultants compiling a 20-year master plan for the airport.

Instead, the airport needs to focus on replacing outdated facilities including the aircraft hangars, maintenance buildings, firehouse and air traffic control tower, said Mark McFarland, project manager with Mead & Hunt consultants. The commercial airline terminal, which opened in 2007, won’t change in the coming two decades, he said.

The master plan, which will be finalized next spring, includes space for a runway parallel to the existing runway, however, only to save the space if it’s ever needed in the future, McFarland said.

“The amount of activity would need to more than double to make that necessary,” he said.

The airport held an open house Wednesday for the public to view the master plan proposals and give feedback.

According to an air activity forecast, commercial operations are projected to increase from 13,564 operations in 2013 to 16,155 flights two decades later. The number of regional jets with a 37 to 50 seat capacity is expected to drop by more than 5,000 operations while regional jets with 66 seats or more will increase by more than 6,000.

Passenger enplanements, or the number of people departing Augusta Regional, is projected to increase to 410,664 passengers annually.

The master plan also looks at increasing aircraft parking space, which falls far short of demand during the annual Masters Tournament held each April in Augusta.

Randy Sasser, a member of the Augusta Aviation Commission, which governs the airport, said planning for Masters Week is the most needed aspect of the master plan, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport has expanded massively in the past decade, so the change won’t be as noticeable to the typical airport user, he said.

“Where this plan is going, the passengers won’t see any change in the next 20 years,” Sasser said.

- Source:

Larry Bielstein : Gig Harbor resident a member of special Federal Aviation Administration group

Gig Harbor resident and retired U.S. Air Force pilot Larry Bielstein is with currently a lieutenant colonel and flight instructor with the Peninsula Composite Civil Air Patrol based at Bremerton National Airport. Bielstein was a fixed wing, rotary wing and civilian pilot who flew in combat in Vietnam, where he was awarded several medals including the Bronze Star. 

As a boy, Larry Bielstein built his first model airplane with his uncle. It crashed.

“Neither of us knew anything about aerodynamics,” Bielstein recalled.

He’s figured things out since then.

Bielstein, 78, is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel with a load of “fruit salad” on his former uniform, which includes a Bronze Star. He’s been flying for more than 50 years, earning awards along the way and volunteering his time with the Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. In 2009, he was a recipient of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which recognizes pilots with more that 50 years of flying accident free.

He and his wife, Marilyn, live in Gig Harbor near the airport.

Bielstein’s accident free for a reason. Pre-flight, the 78-year-old is meticulous. He checks each part of his light-sport American Champion Champ airplane before it leaves his hanger, he calls for weather, he runs through his worn and well-used checklist.

A 20-year-old when he joined up in the Air Force, enlisting hadn’t been the original plan. He’d been attending college at Santa Clara University while working laying sewer pipes, or “underground engineering” as he calls it. The job paid his tuition and he was on his way to becoming a manager when tragedy struck: His boss was killed in a car accident. Bielstein joined the Air Force and put college on hold, eventually finishing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Omaha later on. He also earned an MBA at the University of Puget Sound while still on active duty.

His work in the Air Force took him all over the world. In the Vietnam War, Bielstein spent a year flying rescue helicopters. That’s where he earned the medals on his uniform. His assignments usually focused on rescuing Army helicopters and downed fighter pilots, Bielstein said. Staying alert, the crew was on watch and could be called any time. When called to action, the helicopter had to be ready to go within five minutes. It was a harrowing year.

“I’ve been shot up, but I’ve never been shot down,” the veteran said.

After retiring, Bielstein missed flying, so he got involved in the area with the Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. However, he’s reaching the point where he’s scaled back on much of his flying work. He doesn’t do much instructing.

Mainly, he can jog from his house to the Tacoma Narrows Airport and fly his burgundy plane across the blue sky.

“It’s just the joy of being airborne,” he said.

Story and Photos:

Larry Bielstein proudly shows his recent award from the Federal Aviation Administration, The Wright Brothers "Master Pilot" Award at Tacoma Narrows Airport last Saturday, August 24, 2014.