TaxWasteWatcher.com
Watching Our Taxes Grow and Flow

Home

Runway Extension Project

Runway Extension Project Layout

                Comments on 2009 Supplemental Environmental Assessment
         
Introduction

The following recommendations and discussion are based on a review of the 1991 environmental assessment for Huntsville Airport North, now known as Madison County Executive Airport (MCEA), the 2009 supplemental environmental assessment for the MCEA runway extension project and review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documents. I also had written and verbal communications with the FAA Jackson Airports District Office, conversations with fixed base operators at Huntsville-Madison International and Pryor Field Regional Airports, and a conversation with the Madison County District One Commissioner.

Summary

My opinions regarding the runway extension project listed below. The reasons for these opinions are described in the "Discussion" section of this memorandum.
a). There is no need to extend the MCEA runway to 6,500 feet.
b). Extending the MCEA runway to 6,500 feet is not cost effective.
c). Job creation in the Huntsville metropolitan area will not be diminished if the MCEA runway extension project does not go forward.
d). There are more social impacts than noted in the Supplemental Environmental Assessment.

Recommendations

a) That the Madison County Commission, the MCEAA, and the FAA permanently cancel any further work on the MCEA runway extension project.
b) If it is necessary to purchase the four houses in the 5,000-foot runway protection zone, the MCEAA and FAA should enter into agreements with the present owners of the four houses to purchase those homes at fair market value when those owners decide to sell. The homes have been in the 5,000-foot runway protection zone since 2001 so their presence must not present a real hazard.

Discussion

I believe there is no need to extend the Madison County Executive Airport (MCEA) runway to 6,500 feet.

According to the environmental assessments submitted by Madison County Executive Airport Authority (MCEAA) in 1991 and 2009, there were 50,577operations in 1991 on a 3,700-foot runway and about 31,460 in 2008 on the 5,000-foot runway. That is about a 38 percent decrease in 17 years.

In review comments on the 1991 environmental assessment, the Alabama Aeronautics Department (now Bureau of Aeronautics) commented there was no justification at that time for constructing a 6,500-foot runway. The only thing that has changed since then is that there are fewer operations at MCEA.

The fixed base operator at Huntsville-Madison International Airport said operations were running at about 30 percent of capacity in June 2009 and hangar space was available. The Huntsville-Madison Airport master plan has allocated areas where additional runways can be constructed when needed without removing homes or relocating roads.

Pryor Field Regional Airport near Decatur, AL has a 6,100-foot runway. The fixed base operator at Pryor Field estimated there are from 20 to 100 operations per day.

Driving times and distances from Pryor Field to the Huntsville-Madison Airport and the trade zone businesses are less than from Meridianville (17 minutes and 14.7 miles versus 28 minutes and 22.4 miles). Driving times from Pryor Field to Research Park Drive/I-565 interchange are comparable to those from Meridianville (20 minutes and 20 miles versus 23 minutes and 15.9 miles). Mileage and drive times were found on Mapquest.com.

Extending a runway does not increase the number of operations the MCEA or the Huntsville area air transportation facilities can support. Only one aircraft at a time can use a runway. Increasing the number of runways, not extending their length, is the way to accommodate growth in air traffic.

The MCEA is functioning safely now as a reliever airport and accommodates several types of corporate jets and propeller aircraft.

The Meridianville community is composed of residential areas and retail establishments. That composition is not likely to change. As noted above, the number of operations at MCEA decreased between 1991 and 2008 while the population of the Meridianville area increased.

I believe, based on the items noted above, there is ample runway capacity at convenient locations in the Huntsville metropolitan area for aircraft that are too large to land on the 5,000-foot runway at the MCEA. I believe spending tax money to extend the MCEA runway to 6,500 feet is not justified.

I believe extending the MCEA runway to 6,500 feet is not cost effective.

A significant portion of project cost will be used on non-airport infrastructure to build about one mile of new road and to purchase and remove a number of substantial homes. This results in 1,500 feet of runway costing at least $8,000,000 which I believe is unacceptable.

I believe a more effective use of tax money now in the Huntsville metropolitan area is to secure additional property around Pryor Field Regional Airport to prevent future construction and development from hindering expansion of that airport when needed. Pryor Field is now enclosed by farmland on three sides.

My suggestion to the FAA for all airport projects is to limit FAA funding to actual airport infrastructure (runways, taxiways, navigation equipment, lighting and so on) and require the local governments to fund relocating roads, moving homes and the like. This would accomplish two things. One is to show that the whole community (not just airport authority members and aircraft owners) believes the project is of real value to the community and worth putting up local tax money to pay for it. The other is that more money would be available for more air transportation improvement projects that more directly improve airport infrastructure and the air transportation system

I believe job creation in the Huntsville metropolitan area will not be diminished if the MCEA runway extension does not go forward.

In an April 13, 2009 press release, the MCEA reported the runway extension and landing larger aircraft would benefit airport tenant Yulista Aviation. It was my understanding that Yulista Aviation would be able to bid for maintenance and modification work on larger aircraft. Yulista Aviation is operating under the Small Business Administration 8(a) Program for businesses owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged persons. This gives Yulista an advantage when competing for work from the Federal government who sets aside work for 8(a) companies such as Yulista. Privately owned businesses and corporations do not have a set aside policy and Yulista would not have an advantage when pursuing that work.

Maintenance and modification work on larger aircraft can be performed by Westwind Technologies who now occupy a 65,000 square-foot hanger at Huntsville-Madison International Airport and perform the same type work as Yulista. Employment opportunities for that type work will still exist in the Madison County area but maybe not in Meridianville.

Competition for aircraft maintenance, modification and repair work is becoming more intense as that type work is being done in other countries. Jetblue Airways and US Airways are now having a good deal of their work done in El Salvador and more is planned according to Business Week in April 2008. In El Salvador, an experienced technician makes about $15,000 per year versus $50,000 or so for a technician in the United States. I believe the outlook for that type job creation in the United States is not good.

I believe any positive effects of landing larger aircraft in the Huntsville area will still exist. Those positive effects will just not be in Meridianville.

There are more social impacts than noted in the Supplemental Environmental Assessment.

Of the eight homes MCEA proposes to remove, only one was for sale when the runway extension project was announced. The exhibit contained letters from only two homeowners. One letter was from the homeowner who had the house for sale. According to his letter, he understood several hundred jobs could result from the runway expansion. I donít believe that is likely. The other homeowner considers moving a "sacrifice" for new jobs in the community. I believe the FAA should carefully examine any claims of job creation that is unique to the MCEA so citizens and the FAA could base their decisions on what is likely to happen.

I believe the residents remaining in Buddies Acres will be subject to more noise from larger aircraft being operated closer to their homes. I believe the residentsí quality of life will suffer and their property will be devalued. None of the neighbors I have talked with are in favor of this runway extension. I hope they will believe it is worthwhile to share their opinions with you.

Residents east of the MCEA will have to drive an additional mile or so on a continuous curve to get to Highway 231/431. A dangerous intersection on a curve will be created at the intersection of Lewis Tate Road and Meridianville Bottom Road.