HR Port updating airport safety steps

The Port of Hood River is eyeing some changes at Ken Jernstedt Airfield to boost safety on the runway.

The Port's Airport Advisory Committee is weighing options on how to better align a south apron (parking/fueling area) and its taxiway with the rest of the runway, improving safety. The area isn’t part of the main runway but it could become a “roll-out” area where pilots can have more time to check fuel levels and abort operations if necessary before taking off.

The potential changes are part of the port’s Airport Master Plan, a process mandated every seven years by the Federal Aviation Authority, the agency that funds most of the airport's annual projects.

Port executive director Michael McElwee said airports need to adhere to FAA safety standards through a master plan in order to receive grants.

“This master plan process is a process of figuring out, ‘How do we meet their standards, and how are we thoughtful about how the airport evolves over time?’ And it takes a long a time—a year and a half to work through it—but once it’s set, you’ve got a game plan for seven years.”

The port's last Master Plan agreement with the FAA was filed in 2009. It identified the need for a runway shift to prevent planes from landing too close to the Western road. In 2013, the port complied after hearing public input; they extended the runway east, cutting into a segment of Orchard Road. Though it was completed, the change provoked heated debate.

According to McElwee, the new master plan likely won't be as controversial, but it will require extensive input from FAA consultants, commissioners and the public to decide just how to tackle the safety changes.

Fred Kowell, Port chief financial officer and airport committee member, updated commissioners on the master plan at a regular meeting Tuesday. He said the committee is weighing options on how to make the apron configure correctly with the runway. Options include moving a fuel tank and a Fixed Base Operator station (where a manager coordinates takeoff procedures with pilots and mechanics), shifting barricades, or adjusting a sewer line to make more space.

Commissioners expressed approval to start the planning process. Commissioner Hoby Streich pointed out that the airport could be liable in case of an accident on the facility, so the extra “roll-off” area added by the south taxiway improvement could make operations safer, as well as adherent with federal standards.

Also, the construction costs would be low.

The FAA generally pays 90 percent of the construction costs required to meet its federal safety codes. Their grants fund most of the airport's repair and maintenance projects, roughly $150,000 a year.

The airport handles 14,000 operations per year including antique airplane landings, search and rescue flights and recreational aviation.

The Airport Advisory Committee will be seeking public feedback at public meetings in April and throughout the summer.

“The committee is looking at options, getting public feedback to give to consultants. The FAA can use that as a roadmap,” said port developer and property manager Anne Medenbach, a staff representative on the committee.

The next committee meeting is set for April 1 at Western Antique Aeroplane & Auto Museum (WAAAM). The first public meeting with an FAA consultant in attendance will be in June, the date not yet finalized.

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