$450,000 Bethel Airport improvement project slated for spring
A $450,000 project to build a new terminal building and entrance road for the Bethel Regional Airport is expected to get underway next spring, pending approval of federal funds that will pay for 90 percent of it.
The 26x50-square-foot building will replace the existing 256-square-foot “pilot’s lounge.” The new entrance road will be a right turn off the North Road, replacing an entrance that currently shares Airport Road with the town’s Gamm building.
The plans also include a new parking area and relocation of the airport’s fencing.
The town of Bethel will be responsible for 5 percent of the project cost. The bulk will be paid for with federal funds, with the state chipping in 5 percent, according to Town Manager Jim Doar.
Doar said the relocation of the entrance road will aid in making the “apron” areas near the runway more secure.
The Bethel Airport Authority is currently pursuing permitting for the project, in order to be eligible for the Federal Aviation Administration funds next year.
The project is part of a 20-year Airport Capital Improvement Plan, approved by Bethel selectmen in August, which addresses an expected increase in airport usage and actively encourages more use by itinerant pilots.
Next year’s work is part of a short-time phase (2011-2015) of the plan.
Instrument landings, takeoffs coming
Another short-term component is the development of a “nonprecision GPS instrument procedure, an improvement on the current practice of using visual flight rules.
Establishing the GPS system would make the airport more accessible during poorer visibility and would make the airport more attractive to corporate turboprop and business jet users, according to the plan. The system is expected to go into effect next year.
Numbers provided in the plan show that in 2009, there were a total of 4,520 “operations” (landings and takeoffs) at the airport. Operations for 2014, with instrument approaches in place, are projected at 6,500, with 122 instrument approaches.
Other components of both the short- and longer-term plan would support the new GPS landing procedure. They include removing tree obstructions and adding more safety lights both at the airport and on other nearby obstructions.
An example of new safety lights is the possible installation of four red beacon hazard lights on the smaller hills toward the Bingham land/Sunday River end of the runway.
Other future projects may include acquiring additional land or easements around the airport, relocating taxiways, building new hangars, establishing a helicopter landing area and installing a new fuel tank.
More on GPS
Tony Milligan, airport coordinator/assistant manager at the Bethel Airport, was asked to elaborate on the advantages of a GPS approach system.
“A non-precision GPS approach is an instrument procedure that is designed to enhance safety for arriving and departing aircraft, particularly for nighttime and restricted visibility operations as well as for those pilots that are not that familiar with the terrain in the area,” he said.
“Presently weather conditions must be good enough to allow a pilot to approach visually (away from clouds, fog and limiting precipitation) from their cruising altitude all the way down to the runway to land safely and legally. Nighttime operations can be equally hazardous as well, because of the unlit mountainous terrain surrounding the airport and lack of adequate lighting and other navigational aids on field.
“As such only local pilots with an exceptionally solid awareness of surrounding terrain and obstacle features will attempt night-time operations at Bethel.
“Many pilots during the winter months will try to rush back to the airport from a day of skiing and try to get out before it gets too dark to avoid the extra risk of night-time flying. A GPS approach or any instrument approach will be huge in enhancing safety for arrivals and departures.
“With an approach procedure specifically designed for the Bethel Airport by the FAA, which comes with enhanced runway and obstacle lighting and obstacle removal, pilots for the first time will have established courses and altitudes for different types of aircraft to safely fly when landing or departing Bethel.
“This instrument procedure will permit pilots to descend to a much lower altitude while in the clouds or otherwise limiting visibility before proceeding visually to the runway than presently allowed by air traffic control.
“It will also serve as a departure procedure for visually-trained pilots operating at nighttime to safety navigate them to an altitude away from terrain and on to their destination.
Bethel Regional Airport is one of the last remaining airports in the region of its size to finally be getting an instrument approach. It is long, long overdue. Bethel will now go from being “open” during good weather days, to being “open” all the time.