Sunday, November 26, 2000

Officials say growth requires fourth runway

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — When construction on a third runway at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport was completed nearly 10 years ago, airport officials pledged they wouldn't ask for another one until it was really needed.

        They're asking now.

        With delays and cancellations creeping up at what is considered one of the top airports in the world, officials are seeking federal approval for a fourth runway and extension of an existing strip.

        “We've done a pretty good job up until now handling the growth with our current facilities,” airport aviation director Bob Holscher says. “But if we want to keep our current growth and keep delays manageable — and be able to attract the kind of competition in here that people always ask for - we need this.”

        The new 8,000-foot runway would be west of two other north-south strips. Because the three runways would be spaced far enough apart, air traffic controllers could route three arriving or departing flights at the same time.

        Preliminary cost estimates are $250 million, including the cost of land and soundproofing nearby homes and businesses. Funding would come primarily from a bond issue by the airport board.

        Those payments would be added to the airport's annual budget, which is funded by access fees and lease agreements with airlines and concessionaires. A new runway's cost, therefore, could affect everything from air fares to the cost of a hamburger — possibilities that airport officials play down.

        Delta Air Lines officials wouldn't comment on the need for a new runway, although CEO Leo Mullin has called for more runway capacity nationwide. Comair spokesman Nick Miller says the regional airline - a wholly owned Delta subsidiary - is in favor of expansion.

        The last runway built at the Cincinnati airport opened in January 1991. That strip — the second north-south runway — cost close to $100 million.

        Officials say the new runway costs are higher because land and environmental and engineering studies are costlier now. The airport already has started buying undeveloped land around the proposed area in anticipation of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and airport board.

        Many residents, though, are worried about noise and air pollution.

        “The last runway has absolutely ruined our lifestyle,” says Bob Moll, a Delhi Township retiree whose home sits directly north of the runway that opened in 1991.

        “Not only do we get the noise, especially when they take off our direction, but we get a lot of the burned-out fuel hydrocarbons. It took me two days just last week to clean off my driveway and roof. Another one would just make things even worse.”

        Airport officials say noise already has been reduced significantly with new rules this year requiring commercial jets to have new, quieter engines.

        They also say their efforts to buy out or soundproof nearby houses after the last runway was built went beyond federal requirements.

        Planners anticipate the new runway would allow the airport to handle an additional 150 planes a day while keeping delay times steady.

        The initial draft of an FAA Environmental Impact Study isn't due until spring. After the draft is released, public hearings will be called and their findings incorporated into a final draft.

        Only then can the FAA issue final approval. The airport board of directors also must approve the project after getting approval from the airlines.

        That means that the earliest planes could land on a new strip would be 2005 — barring litigation.

        “It's an incredible process, one that takes 10 to 15 years from the initial planning to completion,” says Evan Futterman, senior vice president at HNTB Corp., a Kansas City-based architectural, engineering and planning firm that has helped build more than 50 airports nationally, including Cincinnati's.

        “Unquestionably, capacity is the biggest issue facing airlines nationally. If you could blink, and overnight 12 runways were built, three-quarters of delay problems would go away.”

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- Officials say growth requires fourth runway
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