Airport trims growth projections

PHOTO/Lisa Seifert/For the Journal
Long-held predictions of skyrocketing growth at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport over the next 20 years have taken a nosedive, lessening the need for airstrips to be built outside of the facility’s current boundaries.

Airport director Morton Plumb said a forecasted 6 percent annual growth in cargo operations is now probably overly optimistic, considering, among other things, economic turmoil in Asia and the United States, and the impact of the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Airport officials are now projecting growth in cargo operations of just more than 2 percent annually.

At an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon Nov. 26, Plumb presented the "draft preliminary airfield alternative,’’ a guide for development of the state-owned airport over the next two decades.

Among the alternative’s proposals are the construction of a new runway parallel to the existing north-south airstrip and the extension at least one of the two east-west runways. Also proposed are high-speed exit taxiways, a tunnel under the existing north-south runway, and the possibility of relocating the control tower.

A new runway may mean that a portion of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail may have to be re-routed under the proposed plan but no details are available, Plumb said.

Airport officials had no final cost estimates on the proposed airport expansion work, but Plumb said he expected it to be about $6 million.

No permits have been applied for nor has money been earmarked for the proposed project, Plumb said.

The $1.5 million federally funded master plan draft plan was years in the making and had much public input.

Initially, there were 20 proposals for airport expansion. Those proposals were narrowed to six and ranged from doing nothing to closing the airport and moving it across Knik Arm to Point MacKenzie. In between those alternatives, were proposals that included building a new north-south runway adjacent to the existing runway at the airport; expanding the airport and developing a new facility at Fire Island or Point MacKenzie; or fully developing Anchorage International beyond its existing boundaries to Kincaid Park, where a new east-west runway would be built.

Constructing a runway through the park, however, proved unpopular with many.

Just two weeks before Plumb’s announcement of the final proposal, airport officials and their consultant, HNTB, a Alexandria, Va.- based firm, predicted a near tripling in cargo operation at the airport by 2020, and more than double the amount of passenger flights.

Those predictions were based on projections from the Federal Aviation Administration and aircraft manufacturers, Plumb said. But on the ground, the airport has seen less traffic in recent months, not more.

Long delays caused by security measures in place since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have forced Cathay Pacific Airways and China Airlines to drop some flights in Anchorage, and Korean Air has not added additional flights leading up to Christmas, as it traditionally does, Plumb said.

The new FAA regulations, which are written in a 81-page document, force an air carrier to unload and re-inspect its overseas cargo in Anchorage. Those rules must be amended for Alaska, or other airlines will likely stop operations here, Plumb said.

In addition to the terrorist attacks and ailing Asian and domestic economies, a slowdown in airport growth also could come from the consolidation of some airlines and larger, more efficient aircraft.

"That may reduce some of the airplanes needed here,’’ Plumb said.

Based on current growth projections, Plumb said the proposed expansion at the airport would have to be done between 2008 and 2015, when the number of airport operations -- take-offs and landings -- increases to 336,000 annually, about 100,000 more than recorded last year.

"That’s the trigger point,’’ Plumb said.

Work on a new parking garage could start as early as 2005, Plumb said.

Public comments on the proposed airport expansion plan will be accepted until Feb. 1.

12/09/2001 - 8:00pm