AA may look at less than 9,350-foot runway

Written by HOWELL, JOHN
Warwick Beacon Online Thu, Jul 27 06

Frustrated that the Federal Aviation Administration has apparently dismissed requests to study the environmental impacts of a shorter than 9,350-foot runway at Green Airport, Mayor Scott Avedisian said yesterday he is looking to meet with Gov. Donald Carcieri to discuss options.

Avedisian did not disclose what he hopes the governor will do. The governor has also said he favors inclusion of a shorter runway in the $6 million study being undertaken by the FAA.

"That's what they believe they gave us in an alternative analysis," Avedisian said when asked how the FAA responded to his questioning about the study.

Jeff Neal of the governor's office said Carcieri had heard from the mayor's office and "of course the governor will meet the mayor."

Yesterday John Silva FAA's environmental program manager said a shorter runway could be included in the study, especially given the issues raised by Environmental Protection Agency representatives Tuesday. FAA's consultants, Vanasse Hangen & Brustlin, outlined the alternatives to be studied to representatives from nine state and federal agencies including the EPA that make up a coordination group. The FAA is looking to gain consensus from the group before proceeding to a study of the environmental consequences of each of the alternatives.

Silva said he is in agreement with the EPA that the "alternatives and environmental consequences are so intertwined that before they can sign off on alternatives that they want to see some of the environmental impacts that would point to a shorter runway."

Does that mean the FAA will look at a shorter than 9,350-foot runway?

"I can't say with certainty," Silva answered.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there is a significant impact [with a longer runway] - noise, city disruption, wetlands and transportation."

"I would feel more comfortable dealing with a shorter runway length after having the consequences quantified," Silva said.

Midway through Tuesday's work session with the coalition group, Silva interrupted the discussion. He wanted to inform the group of more than 40 people what he hadn't heard anyone say and what he knows aggravates Warwick residents.

Looking at the feedback to the plan developed by FAA consultants including concerns over Buckeye Brook, vehicular traffic and collection of deicing fluids, Silva urged the group not to conclude they had identified all the issues.

"All I hear," he said of airport meetings held in Warwick, "is airport noise and disruption. There's another world out there that's very concerned."

While runway length dominated discussion, consultants disclosed their analysis of relocating some air cargo facilities to Quonset - a proposal, they say, that would create hardships for Fed Ex - and provided a projection of how much wetlands would be lost by each of the runway alternatives. A Quonset cargo facility would lengthen the time it takes Fed Ex to reach its Warwick processing center, thereby reducing their ability to be competitive and requiring the company to add to its truck fleet, as trucks are now able to make multiple runs. Three sites are being proposed for the facility: off Airport Road should the road be moved to the north; off Industrial Drive on about 20 acres owned by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and adjacent to the maintenance facility now under construction that would require using a portion of the Warwick Pond neighborhood where RIAC has been purchasing and demolishing homes.

Consultants concluded from a preliminary wetland and stream bed review that a 9,350-foot runway would impact 901 feet of stream bed and 1.9 acres of wetlands. Silva expects those figures will increase significantly when consultants examine the environmental consequences of increasing the safety area of the shorter Runway 16-34. The length of that crosswind runway is not to be changed, but the safety area for aircraft either aborting a takeoff or making an emergency landing need to be increased to meet FAA standards.

At the group coalition meeting Guy Lefebvre of the Rhode Island Rivers Council wanted to know if either the FAA or consultants VHB had formally responded to Gov. Donald Carcieri's request to include a shorter runway extension in their analysis.

Lefebvre's question wasn't answered although the group was given the logic as to why a runway less than 9,350 feet [Runway 5-23 is presently 7,166 feet] would not meet the "project's purpose and need." As defined by the FAA, the purpose and need is to offer airlines the capability to provide non-stop service to the West Coast.

Ideally, said Carol Lurie, project manager for VHB, a runway of 10,700 feet could accommodate fully loaded aircraft [passengers, fuel and cargo] for the full mix of aircraft used by the airlines. She said the airlines were then asked if they needed to fully load aircraft and it was concluded that carrying cargo in addition to passengers was not of high priority. By reducing projected levels of cargo, a length of 9,350 feet was reached.

"The major market is passengers; it is not a cargo market," she said.

Peter Byrne of VHB outlined how a shorter runway would restrict airlines, requiring them to limit the number of passengers so as to carry sufficient fuel to make the flight across country. Reducing the proposed runway to 9,000 feet would cause airlines to reduce about 14,000 passengers by 2012. That number is projected to jump to 25,899 by 2020. Byrne's projections show those numbers climbing to 213,359 passengers by 2020 for a runway of 8,100 feet.

Forecasts for the airport, which is now handling about 5.5 million passengers annually, is 11 million by 2020.

"They [the airlines] almost have to fill up every aircraft to make money," said Byrne. Reducing the potential to carry passengers reaches a point, said Byrne, "where they can't operate from this airport."

While the city has chosen not to be a member of the coordination group, Mayor Avedisian and members of the planning department were briefed on the alternatives analysis on July 13. Avedisian has questioned the assumptions used to conclude the projected passenger restrictions, especially that 767-300 aircraft would be used. Depending on the engine used, a full 767 would need a 9,350-foot runway. But, the mayor notes, the 767 with engines requiring a 9,350-foot runway is projected to make up only about 3.3 percent of the fleet using Green.

"Why are we designing a runway for the exception instead of the norm," he has asked.

Yesterday Avedisian said his office expects to have a written response to the alternatives analysis by next week. He said the city has requested that the FAA conduct a survey of airlines as part of a cost/benefit analysis of a longer runway without success.

"It seems to me that they're [the FAA] spending millions of dollars on a process that doesn't answer the questions the city needs," he said.

As he has previously stated, Silva said the FAA is "not married" to any one of the five runway options being studied and that, in fact, the recommended proposal could be a hybrid of alternatives as well as a shorter than 9,350-foot runway.

"It is very, very common no matter how far along you are, the public is always one step ahead," he said referring to the demand for answers.

"Let's let the process play out," he urged.