2009 Supplemental Environmental
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.
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
a) That the Madison County Commission, the MCEAA,
and the FAA permanently cancel any further work on the MCEA runway
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
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
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.