My Turn: Airport alternatives don't include runway reduction

Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2004

There has been a fair amount of public debate in the past few months concerning runway safety area improvements for Juneau International Airport. Recent articles and letters to the editor, and testimony at Assembly meetings, suggest people are unclear about the alternatives the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering for the Juneau International Airport (JIA). This column is intended to provide clarity concerning those plans.

The FAA is charged with aviation safety, and the implementation of sufficient runway safety area at our nation's airports is one of FAA's top priorities. The purpose of the runway safety area is to reduce the risk of damage to an aircraft that lands short or overshoots the runway ends, or veers off the sides of the runway. The FAA has developed national design standards and criteria for runway safety areas based on the size and types of aircraft that use an airport. The runway safety areas at Juneau and many other airports do not meet FAA's safety standard.

To meet the national standards at the airport about 750 feet of additional runway safety area would have to be constructed on each runway end. Construction of the runway safety areas and other actions being considered for the airport (such as new hangars and apron and other facilities) would have substantial impact on the human environment. For this reason FAA is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the magnitude of the environmental impacts, and to determine if there are alternatives for runway safety area that could achieve the safety objectives while minimizing affects on habitat, wetlands, recreationists and so forth. The EIS considers a wide range of options for runway safety are that include shifting runway thresholds, moving the runway, and the use of engineered materials arresting systems as an equivalent method of achieving the desired safety objective.

On Dec. 12, 2003, the president signed into law "Vision 100 - Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act." Section 502 of the Act, "Runway Safety Areas of Vision 100," states that "An airport or operator in the State of Alaska shall not be required to reduce the length of a runway or declare the length of a runway less than the actual pavement length to meet standards of the Federal Aviation Administration applicable to runway safety areas." Juneau has informed the FAA that any runway safety area alternative which shortens the runway would not be acceptable. As a result, the FAA cannot implement alternatives that would reduce runway length.

The EIS will present the proposed actions and alternatives under consideration for the runway safety area and other airport needs. The EIS will describe, in detail, the five alternatives that FAA considers prudent and feasible to meet the needs for the runway safety area at the airport. These alternatives will have different operational characteristics, and each will present different environmental and economic benefits and possibly drawbacks. Rest assured, however, that none of the alternatives would shorten the runway.

The FAA plans on releasing a draft EIS for public review sometime in late winter. We look forward to an open discussion about the EIS and future activities at the airport with the citizens of Juneau.

• Patti Sullivan lives in Anchorage and is the Federal Aviation Administration's environmental program manager for Airports Division, Alaskan Region.

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