Anchorage airport plan nears completion after 18 months


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The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is projected to get a lot busier over the next 20 years, and preparing for that growth is the focus of a Master Plan now nearing completion after an 18-month process including seven public meetings.

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The long-term strategy for Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is nearing completion.

The airport’s Master Plan was presented to Anchorage residents Dec. 11 at the last of seven open houses held during the 18-month planning process.

It calls for construction of a fourth runway and removal of the North Terminal if future traffic demands added capacity.

Airport officials commissioned the international infrastructure design and planning firm Reynolds Smith and Hills Inc. to prepare the plan.

Master Plan updates for airports are recommended every five to seven years by the Federal Aviation Administration, project manager Evan Pfahler said during the presentation. Master Plan updates are primarily paid for by the FAA with Airport Improvement Program dollars. The state received a $360,000 appropriation in its 2013 fiscal year budget for the Anchorage Master Plan.

TSAIA’s master plan was last updated in 2002.

Any major changes to the airport would be made based on activity, not a set timeline, Pfahler said.

“Here we have a plan in place for the airport to remain financially solvent in the future — financially sustainable — and ready to undertake those projects if and when the need does arise,” Pfahler said.

The Master Plan projects cargo and passenger traffic out 20 years. During the next 20 years the state projects annual passenger enplanements will grow from 2.46 million to more than 3 million at its largest airport. Cargo throughput is expected to increase more than 45 percent, from 5.1 million tons to 8.84 million tons per year.

If the airport were to see its annual aircraft operations, or takeoffs and landings, increase to between 261,000 and 281,000, the Master Plan calls for a new runway to meet demand. According to the master plan, the 8,000-foot runway would be built 3,400 feet west of the existing Runway 15-33, which runs nearly north and south. It’s estimated such a runway — extending slightly into Cook Inlet — would cost nearly $500 million today. The runway would also require significant changes to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

The Alaska International Airport System forecasts Anchorage will hit those traffic numbers in the late 2020s.

Currently, the airport sees about 220,000 operations per year, down from a peak of around 250,000 operations in 2000. Airline industry experts have attributed the traffic decline to larger aircraft able to bypass Anchorage on Asia-North America flights as well as a general shift to lower cost marine shipping. Still, Anchorage ranks second nationally and fourth worldwide in cargo throughput, according to state international airport system, or AIAS.

In the interim, the Master Plan lays out less drastic ways to “optimize airport activity,” Pfahler said.

At operation levels from 225,000 to 242,000, Phase 2 of the plan would have the North Terminal demolished to make space available for additional aircraft parking. In conjunction with that a new five-gate concourse would be built on the northwest portion of the South Terminal.

Phase 2 also adds capacity by allowing for more use of Runway 7L for takeoffs to the east over Anchorage. That would make two of the airports three runways available for use nearly all of the time, Pfahler said. Whether Fairbanks International Airport could be used to absorb some “gas-and-go” cargo traffic would be investigated at that time, he said.

If airport operations increase at 1.4 percent as forecasted by AIAS, annual operations would surpass 230,000 within five years.

The proposition of increasing takeoffs to the east has been met with resistance by residents living near the airport because of concerns about noise and safety. Those issues were brought up by several members of the public at the Dec. 11 meeting.

Near-term Phase 1 changes to the airport more likely to occur include the possibility of a new ground run-up enclosure north of the North Terminal and revamping taxiways approaching runways 25L-7R and 7R-25L to comply with new FAA design standards, Pfahler said.

The Master Plan is out for a final public comment period until Dec. 26. The plan is scheduled to be finalized in early 2014.

Pfahler said his team conducted 20 public meetings, mailed 280,000 postcards and answered all of the 560 public comments submitted so far during the planning process.

Fairbanks International Airport recently finished the “investigation phase” of its Master Plan update and a plan is set to be released for public review in May 2014, with the final plan completed next July.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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