Airport plan calls for expansion

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Airport plan

Kalispell City Airport should be upgraded to meet B-II design standards and make it eligible for funding through the federal Airport Improvement Program.

That was the word from Stelling Engineers on Tuesday with the final release of a lengthy master plan update that evaluated more than a dozen options for the 83-year-old general aviation facility in south Kalispell.

The Federal Aviation Administration paid for most of the $97,000 study that has been in the works for about two years.

The recommended airport layout plan is nearly identical to a plan that emerged from a 1999 master plan and sets the stage for Kalispell City Council to decide this spring what it wants to do with the facility.

The Kalispell City Council will take that discussion up at a public work session on Monday.

Jeff Walla, an engineer with Stelling Engineers, will attend the meeting to explain his firm’s findings and recommendation. So will Gary Gates, a program assistant with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airports District Office in Helena.

The proposed airport layout plan would lead to some changes at Kalispell City Airport. Among other things it would:

n Relocate the runway 1,000 feet south and realign it by about five degrees.

n Lengthen the runway from 3,600 to 4,200 feet and widen it from 60 to 75 feet.

n Install a 35-foot-wide, full-length taxiway on the west side of the runway.

n Increase the separation between the runway and taxiway and the size of runway protection zones.

n Install medium-intensity runway lighting and precision approach path indicators at both ends of the runway.

n Expand the aircraft ramp area with 17 new tie-downs.

n Completely fence in the airport.

The recommended airport layout plan would move Red Eagle Aviation, the airport’s fixed-base operator, from the north end of the runway to a new building mid-runway. It also includes a proposed heliport at the south end of the runway where all helicopters could be required to land and take off, moving them farther away from homes and businesses to the north.

Requiring the purchase of 114 acres from 17 different landowners and the mitigation of the two KGEZ radio towers south of the airport, the project has an estimated cost of $16 million and a proposed build-out over several years.

Funding from the Airport Improvement Program could cover about $13.5 million, leaving a local share of about $2.5 million and allowing the city to be reimbursed for about $3.1 million it already has spent on land purchases and airport improvements in anticipation of an eventual upgrade to B-II design standards.

Other options explored in the study included closing the airport, upgrading it to meet a B-1 design standard with the city paying the full cost or relocating the airport to a site near West Reserve Drive and West Spring Creek Road.

“In our discussions with FAA and the city, we just started leaning more and more toward that original recommendation from the original master plan,” Walla said.

A 4,200-foot runway would accommodate 95 percent of the small aircraft with room for 10 or fewer passengers that are using the airport now and projected to use the airport over a 20-year planning period.

“We did have discussions about going with a shorter length, but there are some very strong advantages with the longer runway,” Walla said, adding that it’s possible the city could pursue a phased-in approach to lengthening the runway.

Moving the runway 1,000 feet south and lengthening it by 600 feet would put planes that take off to the north or land from the north higher in the air over the city, improving safety and reducing noise. The majority of planes take off to the south and land from the north.

“The advantages in our mind just put us over the edge in going that route for our recommendation. Our approach here is to make it as safe as possible,” Walla said.

Kalispell City Airport is home mostly to smaller A-I aircraft, a few B-I aircraft and one B-II aircraft that have larger wingspans and faster approach speeds. The facility currently does not meet B-I design standards.

Stelling predicts larger, faster aircraft would continue to use Glacier Park International Airport.

The proposal would require enough land purchases to support a runway length of 4,700 feet, but the need to lengthen the runway to that length is “not supported at this time or anticipated during the 20-year planning period,” the study said.

The full master plan update is available online at www.kalispell.com.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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