October 13, 2008

Airport’s Long-Term Plan Aired

By Benoit, Zach

Airport officials and consultants laid out details of a proposed 20-year master plan for Billings Logan International Airport at a public meeting Tuesday evening.

The meeting, designed to gather public input on the proposed plans, drew a crowd of about two dozen people and mostly focused on possible changes to runways, airport structures and parking. Representatives from Mead and Hunt Inc., hired by the airport to draw up the master plan, were on hand to go over the proposal.

Nicholas Pela, a manager with Mead and Hunt, said an airport inventory, demand forecasts, facility requirements and drafts of the analysis of alternative proposals have already been completed and that he hopes the master plan is completed and approved by April 2009. The plan is designed to guide airport growth and improvements from 2006 to 2026.

Population growth in Billings is projected to increase by about 1.1 percent each year through 2026, Pela said, and the airport will have to grow as well. Since 2006, there have been 102,000 total aircraft operations at the airport, and that number could rise to as much as 170,000 by 2026. Over that same timeframe, the number of passengers each year could rise from more than 400,000 to around 800,000.

Among the plans are a three-story parking facility to be built by 2016 and an expansion of that building by 2026, with more than 3,000 total parking spaces.

During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, several attendees brought up concerns over the possible removal of a runway at the airport's west end called 28L, which is used for general aviation by local pilots. In a previous meeting, Mead and Hunt recommended removing that runway to make room for other buildings. Pela said Tuesday that the recommendation has since been withdrawn.

"The original draft did recommend it, but the current draft has been revised," he said, adding that the airport wants to keep the runway. "We found no need to go down that avenue."

New plans call for the runway to be shortened by 1,000 feet at its east end and lengthened to the west by 1,000 feet to accommodate a possible air cargo center. However, some local pilots were still concerned that the runway may be removed.

"It remains to be seen what the new master plan says," Roger Petersen said.

Also among the proposed plans are as many as three new departure gates, another airline ticket counter, another security checkpoint, more concessions and an additional baggage carousel.

However, Pela was quick to point out that "there may be a need" for the changes and that many aren't set in stone.

Tentative plans call for the final draft of the master plan to be finished by March 3, 2009, and for a final, public hearing in front of City Council on March 18.

Copyright Billings Gazette Sep 17, 2008

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