Thursday, February 28, 2002

Runway extension wins FAA approval

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The airport will be able to build a 2,000-foot extension to an existing runway after all, thanks in part to some help from its biggest customers.

        Officials at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport had previously been told by the Federal Aviation Administration that there was not enough justification to extend the east-west runway from 10,000 feet to 12,000 feet. Officials then planned on a 1,000-foot extension.

        But this month, main tenants Delta Air Lines and DHL Worldwide Express both submitted letters on behalf of the airport, stating they would need the full 2,000 feet for bigger aircraft and for planes headed to more distant destinations such as Asia.

        Atlanta-based Delta operates its second-largest hub at the airport. Air freight carrier DHL runs its main domestic hub there.

        Those letters were enough for the FAA, which this week approved the full project.

        “It really is just so much more cost-effective for us to do it in one fell swoop that we really fought for it,” said Bob Holscher, airport director of aviation.

        The extension is part of an overall runway expansion project that also includes a new 8,000-foot north-south runway on the western end of the airport.

        The total project, including the 2,000-foot extension and new runway, is expected to cost $236 million, with work expected to begin as soon as next month and be completed by 2005. The project had passed environmental reviews, but funding was another question.

        Airport officials have applied for $135 million in federal funds. The airport is planning to pay for the rest with bond issues and perhaps passenger facility charges, or fees assessed to every airline ticket in and out of Cincinnati.

        The extra 1,000 feet, expected to cost $10.3 million, was not part of that federal application, but now the airport can apply for additional ticket fees because the FAA has signed off on it.

        Rusty Chapman, manager of the FAA's airport division for the southern region, said a “letter of intent,” which will spell out how much federal funds the project will get, could be released within 30 days. He said that the FAA has sent a draft to Congress for final approval.

        He also said the letters from the individual airlines, which outlined the individual types of planes the carriers plan to use in the future, played a major part in clearing the extension. DHL said it currently uses Boeing 747s and MD-11s extensively, and planned even more use in the future. Delta said the 2,000-foot extension would accommodate the airline's plans to use Boeing 777s and MD-11s for flights to Western Europe and the Pacific Rim.

        “We took a look at the clearances and the temperatures in Cincinnati and the routes those planes would be flying and we concurred that they would need the full 12,000 feet,” Mr. Baker said.

        Representatives from both companies welcomed the decision.

        “We are pleased with it, because it basically sets the full extension in place right now,” said Eric Summe, director of government and public affairs for the central region for Delta.

        Steve White, DHL vice president for the Cincinnati hub, called the decision “great news, especially since we're using some of those planes now and could really use the space.”

        Mr. Holscher said the noise impact would not be any greater, since airport officials would have used noise limits based on a 2,000-foot extension even if a 1,000-foot addition was built.


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