Spokane Journal of Business

Third airport runway by 2022

Updated SIA master plan also includes extended main runway, new terminal

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Those distant future plans for a third runway at Spokane International Airport arent so distant anymore. A draft of the airports newest master plan calls for building it as early as 2011less than 10 years from nowand by 2022 at the latest.


The additional 13,000-foot runway, which the document says will be needed to meet predicted significant growth in air traffic at the airport, would be located west of the current terminal complex and parallel to the runway at nearby Fairchild Air Force Base, providing more efficient inbound and outbound flights through the airspace above the West Plains.


Planning for actual construction of the new runway, which the plan anticipates will cost $120 million in todays dollars, will be triggered when air traffic on the airports main runway, which is now estimated to be 50 percent of total capacity, reaches 65 percent of capacity. Although actual construction of the runway will take two to three years, the project will require a lead time of seven to eight years for planning and permitting, which will include an extensive public-review process. The project will be funded primarily by the Federal Aviation Administration.


In contrast to runway-addition projects at many other airports, the new runway at Spokane International will be constructed largely on property the airport already owns, says the consultant who prepared the updated master plan. By not encroaching on local businesses and neighborhoods, SIA stands a good chance of avoiding much of the controversy and community trauma such expansions have visited on other cities such as, for example, the long-discussedand incredibly controversialproposed third runway at Sea-Tac International Airport.


Though nearly two decades might pass before a single shovelful of dirt is turned for Spokane Internationals third runway, its inevitabilitylike the air-passenger and air-cargo demands that will eventually make it a necessityis anticipated in detail in the draft master plan.


The document, which includes a capital-improvement plan, is in the process of being updated for republication next year. Two public workshops on the plan have been held already and a third, and final, workshop will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the Doubletree Hotel-Spokane City Center.


Although the airport has experienced small declines in the volume of air cargo and the number of commercial airline passengers over the past year and a half, that downturn runs counter to long-term trends. Prior to 2001, for example, air-cargo volumes at the airport had increased steadily in each of the previous 10 years.


John Yarnish, of URS Corp, the Seattle-based consulting firm thats handling the update, says projections of similar long-term growth trends in passenger and cargo flights at the airport have led planners to anticipate a need for a third runway.


Taking into account historic trends at Spokane International, planned developments at other connecting airports, and national passenger-growth projections, the drafters of the plan expect the number of passengers flying to and from Spokane will double over the next two decades, from about 3 million annually now to 6 million by 2020.


Similarly, the plan forecasts that the volume of air-cargo tonnage, which has doubled at the airport over the past five years, will increase even more dramatically in the future, from a recently revised estimate of more than 80,000 tons in 2000 to roughly 273,000 tons by 2020.


Such projections also lead planners to anticipate the development of a new terminal building, probably sometime late in the plans 20-year horizon.


The plan sets aside more than twice as much area for the new terminal complex as the current terminal now occupies, Yarnish says. His firm is still working on what the concept will be for the new terminal, although he says estimates of its size and layout will be available by the Sept. 17 workshop. The plan envisions that the new terminal, to be constructed as a western extension of the recently constructed C Concourse complex, will be built in phases, and will operate in conjunction with the current terminal for several years before replacing it completely, he says.


In the meantime, the plan calls for construction of 12 new aircraft gates, plus expanded ticket counters and baggage facilities at the C Concourse, located just west of the main terminal. When those new facilities will be built depends largely on the rate of growth in passenger air traffic and the needs of air carriers, but planners dont expect the additional work to begin for another five to 10 years, Yarnish says.


Immediate needs


In addition to the longer-range projects, the plan also addresses the airports more immediate capital-construction needs, such as the relocation and extension of taxiway G on the northeastern quadrant of the airport, across the main runway from the terminal area. That project, required because of safety regulations governing the airports ability to operate under low-visibility conditions, involves relocating the taxiway to provide 600 feet, rather than the current 400 feet, of separation between the center line of the main runway and the taxiway, Yarnish says.


In a project to begin next year, the taxiway will be extended to parallel the northernmost 3,000 feet of the main runway. Some three to five years later, he says, the airports plan anticipates the taxiway will be extended by about another 6,000 feet to the southwest to provide access to new general aviation hangars that its expected will be constructed in that area of the airport.


Work already has begun on another major objective in the plan, which is the relocation of the current air-cargo area to an area across the main runway from the terminal.


That effort began in May with the laying of eight acres of concrete for a new air-cargo handling area on the northeastern side of the airport, to the north of the general aviation area. Approximately 80 acres at that location have been set aside for air-cargo operations, which will eventually all be moved to the northeastern side of the airport. The entire relocation will be conducted over the next 10 to 15 years, Yarnish says.


Additionally, sometime after 2008, the plan envisions that the southwest end of the airports main runway will be extended an additional 3,000 feet, to give the runway a total length of 12,000 feet, to accommodate the air-cargo industrys use of increasingly heavier aircraft. That extension will require the relocation of portions of several roads in the area, including Hayford, McFarland, and Smith roads, as well as Electric Avenue, and also will affect a few nearby residences in what is currently a sparsely populated rural residential area, he says.


Other developments envisioned within the next 20 years include further expansion of parking facilities, provisions for light-rail or other mass-transit access to the airport, relocation of the air-rescue and firefighting facility, relocation of the airports traffic-control tower, and the construction of additional general-aviation hangars on the airports southeastern side, particularly for larger private aircraft.


Todd Woodard, spokesman for the airport, says information on the airports master plan can be found on the Internet at www.Spokaneairports.net, or by writing to David Crowner, Spokane International Airport, P.O. Box 19186, Spokane, WA 99219. Public comments on the plan can be mailed to the same address, Woodard says.

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