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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 28th, 2010, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 11, Issue 29 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 11, Issue 29

Runway extension to result in longer flights

Officials say the Santa Maria Airport project will have no impact on noise levels

By JEREMY THOMAS

Wanna get away? Far away?

Travelers leaving Santa Maria Airport will likely be able to take longer flights out of town as a result of a runway extension project scheduled to begin later this year.

To pay for the project, the Santa Maria Public Airport District is taking advantage of a $4.1 million Airport Improvement Program grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, awarded on Sept. 1. It will add 1,700 feet to the airport’s main runway, extending it from 6,300 to 8,000 feet.

Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said the project allows for
more versatility, allowing fully loaded aircraft to leave Santa Maria for farther destinations.

“Where it’s really going to play a factor is with business aviation, and that picks up with overseas travels,” he said. “A business jet going to Asia or Hawaii will be able to leave Santa Maria full of fuel and passengers and not have to worry about their runway calculations.”

A longer runway could also make way for larger commercial and private planes and longer corporate jet flights. The largest commercial planes the airport can currently handle are MD-80 jets flown by Allegiant Air.

In March, Allegiant Air announced plans to offer direct flights to Hawaii. The company has already purchased a couple of Boeing 757s for the new service, which are expected to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2011.

Officials from Allegiant Air didn’t return phone calls for comment, but Hastert said it’s possible the airline could offer service to Hawaii from Santa Maria before the runway extension is complete.

Having already gone through all the necessary public comment periods and environmental impact reports, the project—planned since 2004—has some Orcutt residents living in the airport’s flight path worried about increased noise levels. Hastert said the expansion won’t bring any more noise to the area and won’t change the amount of air traffic the airport already receives.

“Currently our airport is able to handle quite large aircraft coming in,” he said. “Mostly this will just expand the capabilities of the airport; it won’t add to the capacity.”

Area-wise, the Santa Maria Airport is one of the largest in the state, at 2,598 acres. It dwarfs nearby airports in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo—at 948 and 340 acres, respectively. By comparison, Los Angeles International Airport covers roughly 3,500 acres.

Classified as a “primary airport” by the FAA, the Santa Maria Airport qualifies for a certain amount of Congressionally approved entitlement funds through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program each year, typically about $1 million annually, Hastert said.

With no major projects planned in the past several years, the airport banked the money. Combined with the latest FAA grant—comprised of a $1.5 million discretionary grant and $2.6 million in nondiscretionary funds—about 95 percent of the project cost will be covered, Hastert said.

“We feel lucky that our project was selected as one of the important ones to get done this year,” he said.

The extension will be built in two phases, with the first phase likely to begin within months, Hastert said. Construction will begin with an extension of the airport’s taxiway, grading around the runway, and drainage work. The work will result in minor closures of runway at night, though normal air traffic will be unaffected.

Hastert said Airport District officials are hoping for another grant in 2011 to finish the project, when the second phase will begin. At that time, cracks will be sealed in the existing runway, the actual extension and paving will be done, and navigational lighting will be relocated. More closures will be necessary, Hastert said, but will be timed so they won’t affect the airlines.

Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas can be contacted at jthomas@santamariasun.com.




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