Airport runway awaits environmental study
The Federal Aviation Administration has $60 million to rebuild the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport runway, according to Executive Director Tony Bean.
The only thing standing in the way now is a $3.2 million environmental study.
The current runway lines up almost directly with Moscow Mountain. This means planes have to approach the airport much higher and farther away — a tricky thing to do during a Palouse winter, Bean said.
In order to meet FAA standards, the runway must move farther from the terminal and rotate so it lines up with the valley next to Moscow Mountain.
Bean said the FAA will pay for moving the runway.
“The FAA doesn’t build runways, at least not very often,” he said. “They are here.”
Bean said the airport has the staff to accommodate more, larger planes, but the runway doesn’t meet the standards.
“It’s a $60 million elephant,” Bean said.
In order to put the runway in, the hills around the airport would be demolished and some of the depressions would be filled in, he said.
Bean said the dirt moved would be about enough to fill an empty Martin Stadium 16 times.
He said this would create a big impact on the environment, including the wetlands, around the airport.
The environmental study will report the impacts moving the runway will have on about 1200 acres surrounding the airport. Bean said it costs money to do such studies correctly.
“It’s $3.2 million (to do the study) correctly,” Bean said.
The City of Moscow recently accepted a grant in advance of up to $2.9 million. Passenger fees will cover the remaining amount required for the study.
Bean said $4.50 from every ticket goes to facility fees to pay for things like the study and, later, the runway construction.
He said the airport is owned by the region, so the whole region has to agree before decisions can be made. This includes the cities of Moscow and Pullman, Idaho and Washington states and both universities. The federal government also has a stake in the airport, Bean said.
Moving the runway means changing flight patterns over Moscow, Pullman, Troy and other areas.
Another factor in the runway moving is the state-owned land for a planned bypass around Pullman. Bean said the land is right in the approach for incoming aircraft.
Some of the other options include moving the bypass and building a tunnel.
As the bypass isn’t built yet, Bean said it wouldn’t make sense to build a tunnel to nowhere.
He said the airport is unique in regional matters — generally, everybody agrees.
A better runway would mean more flights — creating cheaper, more frequent flights as well as helping area commerce, Bean said.
He said the airport has refused contracts with Fed-Ex and UPS because the runway doesn’t meet FAA standards.
When planes can’t land at Pullman-Moscow because of winter weather, they are diverted to Lewiston or Spokane.
Bean said this means lodging and meals happen in Spokane or Lewiston, not Moscow and Pullman, pulling revenues away from Palouse businesses.
The airport also affects football — teams travelling to WSU and Idaho don’t fly into Pullman-Moscow, and fans often don’t either, according to Bean.
Bean said the push to move the runway has been going on for about 20 years. He said planes are getting bigger.
“Nobody’s flying smaller stuff,” he said.
He said airplanes flying into Pullman-Moscow have gone from 19 to 32 seats, and even up to 72 seats.
He said it’s obvious change is needed when one sees these large planes landing on a runway built for smaller planes.
“Should the airport not be allowed to grow?” Bean said.
Kasen Christensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org