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Commercial service threatened; airport to realign runway

CHAD SOKOL | Evergreen reporter

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The runway at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport is unfit to accommodate modern commercial and charter planes, but a plan is underway to fix that.

The size and orientation of the runway violate policies of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which issued an exemption about four years ago to enable the airport to continue offering service.

“Part of our exemption with the FAA is our planning and our willingness to renovate the runway,” said Tony Bean, the executive director of the airport.

Bean explained that newer aircraft are much larger than older models, creating the need for more space on the runway. More specifically, the wings of larger aircraft extend into an adjacent taxiway.

“The problem is that they don’t get smaller than that,” Bean said. “Alaska (Airlines) doesn’t fly planes smaller than that.”

Many flights into Pullman take place on the 76-seat Bombardier Q400, which has a longer fuselage than earlier 36-seat models. To accommodate this, the renovation will increase the length of the runway from 6,700 feet to 7,100 feet.

“There’s been 20 years of planning on this – 10 years of hard planning,” Bean said.

Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson, who serves as chairman on the airport board, said planning officials have accelerated planning in the past five or six years.

“What really triggered it is when the major airlines, Horizon and Alaska, started using the bigger planes like the Q400 with their bigger wingspan,” Johnson said. “That really emphasized that there wasn’t enough separation between the runway and the taxiway.”

Visibility is another issue as the runway sits in a bowl directly facing Moscow Mountain. Johnson said the high terrain of the area makes landing a difficult task.

Bean said by adjusting the angle of the runway by about 10 degrees, the renovation will enable pilots to make better judgments prior to landing. The west end of the runway, the one closer to Pullman, will move southward during reconstruction.

The FAA has allocated $60 million for the renovation, which Johnson expects to be completed by 2018 or 2019. Federal law mandates that the airport provide an additional $6 million, or 10 percent.

Johnson said he hopes to reduce that requirement to 6.25 percent to match what an Idaho airport would pay in a similar situation.

Bean outlined three phases of the renovation project: the environmental phase, the design and land-acquisition phase, and the construction phase.

The environmental phase, which has been underway for about three years, entails a wide range of considerations, from electricity and hazardous materials to the presence of endangered species in the area.

Bean said a loss of airline service would substantially impact the people and the economy of the Palouse.

“When you have a global impact the way this region does, you have to have good air service,” Bean said. “Airports are one of the most valuable assets that the community really owns, and it ought to do what they want it to.”

Community members will gather facts and voice concerns about the project at two public forums that are scheduled to take place during the first week of November. More information can be found at www.puw-ea.com.

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Commercial service threatened; airport to realign runway