Originally created 08/24/02

Reply on master plan remains unfinished



Somewhere on the strip of grass behind Augusta Regional Airport's aging terminal, officials hope to break ground for a new terminal one of these days.

Exactly where that shovel will strike remains unknown.

The Federal Aviation Administration's district office in Atlanta is still reviewing the airport's master plan, a 20-year development guide for Augusta Regional that was submitted to the agency in December.

Airport officials, who expected the FAA's final commonths ago ments months ago along with a green light to start construction, recently found out that their report was not complete.

"The FAA asked engineers to make some minor adjustments to the master plan, and we're waiting to receive those," FAA spokesman Christopher White said.

According to airport officials, the FAA requested more studies about where a terminal would be built and what environmental impacts its construction would have.

Last week, the airport approved a contract with Black & Veatch Corp., the aviation consulting firm that compiled the master plan study, to conduct another study about potential sites for a new midfield terminal.

"That was one of the pieces of information they needed in order to move forward with their decision-making process," airport spokeswoman Kathryn Solee said.

She said the consultants would submit three sites in the middle of the airport's airfield where a new terminal could be built.

The existing terminal, which airport officials say is in disrepair because of its age, now sits in front of the airport's two intersecting runways.

As it was submitted, the master plan called for building a new midfield terminal and getting rid of the existing crosswind runway to make way for a new parallel runway that airport officials say would greatly increase the number of airplanes the airport could handle.

The costs associated with the construction projects were estimated to be about $92 million.

Now, as the airport's consultants work on their terminal site studies, some Augusta Aviation Commission members have expressed concern about what will happen if the new terminal is built on top of the airport's secondary runway.

"I think it (the airport) can operate with just one runway," said airport board member Whitney O'Keeffe, pointing out that there are much larger airports with only one airstrip. "But I have a problem destroying a public asset without a replacement or plan for a replacement."

Mr. O'Keeffe said the airport's consulting firm recently told the commission that the FAA will likely not approve the master plan's concept to start construction on a new runway parallel to the existing 8,000-foot runway until traffic at the airport increases significantly.

One of the items FAA officials will have to weigh once they receive the terminal study is the impact shutting down the 6,000-foot runway could have on the airport's operations.

While the crosswind runway is used less than the primary strip, private pilots say they like having both options because of changing wind conditions.

"These days, in the afternoon sometimes you have a pretty strong wind gust, and depending on where the winds are you need the option for landing," said Stan Pylant, a Martinez resident who flies out of Augusta Regional about once a month for personal trips.

"Hopefully, they put another runway out there if they (build) on top of it," Mr. Pylant said.

Because the two runways are perpendicular to each other, some private aircraft pilots report having an easier time landing with the wind as opposed to having it hit them from the side.

But airport officials say the crosswind runway is used for only 5 percent of all takeoffs and landings.

Placing the new building on the crosswind runway is only an option in the terminal study, which the FAA will evaluate. There are other sites in the midfield area where the immediate decommissioning of the runway might not be necessary.

Airport officials say they will submit the report and let the FAA decide on the best route.

"They'll make a decision, and then we'll get a notice as to what we're supposed to do next," Ms. Solee said. "It sounds vague, but it's only because we're in the perpetual wait stage."

Meanwhile, the airport's self-imposed countdown ticks away for the estimated opening of a new terminal in January 2005.

Ms. Solee said she expects the terminal site study to be finished and presented to the FAA by Sept. 15, getting it in right before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

"Usually, we try to do things by the end of the fiscal year for fallout money," she said.

Ms. Solee said the airport wanted to apply for discretionary funding, which is federal aviation grant money left over at the end of the fiscal year, but needed FAA approval on some of the airport's submitted projects.

"Then, we'll know by the end of the month, hopefully, if they're going to approve any of our apron projects or any of our planning studies or those types of things that are out there."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.