Airport Master Plan lays out key upgrades
Work on the a new Master Plan for the Bethel Regional Airport is coming to a conclusion, Project Engineer Rich Yarnold told a public informational meeting Tuesday, and overall: “Things are actually moving pretty quickly out there.”
And among the things in the pipeline are a new terminal building, a longer runway and the infrastructure required for a “non-precision approach” designation, which will allow planes to land here in limited-visibility weather.
“Maybe next year we'll be meeting in the new terminal building,” Yarnold told the dozen or so people (many of the members of the Airport Planning Advisory Committee) who turned out Tuesday.
The master plan was approved by Bethel voters at a special Town Meeting in March of 2009. Its cost, $140,000, is covered by the town's airport “Entitlement Fund,” money provided by the FAA.
The completed plan will lay out the proposed growth of the airport for the next 20 years. The document is signed by the town, the FAA and the state of Maine (MDOT), and becomes a legal contract between those entities.
Because it is a legal plan, the 95 percent of the cost of the improvement projects it lays out will be paid by the FAA (from the federal tax on airline tickets), with the 5 percent balance split between the state and Bethel.
Those projects encompass “all the different infrastructure that is necessary to operate an airport,” Yarnold said, including such things as the terminal, runway, taxiways, apron space, hangar space, and lighting of not only the airport itself but also its avigational approaches.
And how they all might best be arranged, given the physical characteristics and limitations of the airport site.
“We looked at all the variations and from those we selected what we call 'a preferred alternative,'” Yarnold said.
In the case of the Bethel Airport – which caters to general-aviation aircraft – that preferred alternative is largely focused on developments in the terminal area, Yarnold said.
Those include not only constructing the terminal building, but its parking lot and access road, expanding the terminal's taxi and parking aprons, upgrading hangar access and tie downs, and installing a Jet A aviation fuel tank.
Away from the terminal, “airside” improvements include the runway extension.
The extension will be relatively short, 182-feet, but it is an important 182 feet, Yarnold said, because it brings the overall length of the runway to 4,000 feet.
“And in the world of airports, there are some magic numbers,” he said, “and one of them is 4,000 feet. Pilots and users just like to know that there's 4,000 feet of runway in front of them.”
That runway would be able to land 95 percent of the general aviation fleet (small aircraft, twin-engine aircraft and turboprops), he said, and that includes virtually all the corporate users that Bethel is seeking to attract.
But 4,000 feet is still too short for most jets, he said.
“Not many jets will use the airport, but some of the small ones might.”
“What can't land here are the larger aircraft, like air carriers, 737s, and that sort of large jet aircraft,” Yarnold said.
Then he corrected himself: “They could land, but they couldn't take off.”
The Master Plan's timetable calls for having the runway extension completed in year three and the “non-precision approach” infrastructure in place next year.
“This is exciting stuff,” local pilot Randy Autrey, a member of the Planning Committee said at the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting. “This [non-precision] approach is going to get people here.”