Eklutna Inc. reveals Birchwood plans

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
EAGLE RIVER -- Birchwood Airport could become a hub for air cargo planes serving Bush communities under a scenario being considered by Eklutna Inc., but some say the idea should never take flight.

The Alaska Native village corporation, which owns land surrounding the airport, has talked with the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities about strengthening and extending the runway to 6,000 feet to accommodate DC-3s, DC-6s, C-130s and Sky Vans.

The airport is managed by DOT&PF, and Eklutna’s idea caught officials off guard.

"Completely reorienting the Birchwood Airport is difficult for us to be thinking about right now," said transportation planner Diana Rigg. "The proposal would change the whole nature of the airport.

"It took us aback, especially since Birchwood is a general aviation airport primarily for the recreationist. It appears they started with the political end, rather than the practical end of going to air cargo operators and saying, Hey, guys, if we build it will you come?’ "

Rigg said the department wants Eklutna to "do some background work" before further meetings to discuss the issue.

Eklutna spokeswoman Deborah Luper acknowledged that the corporation had not talked with carriers before meeting with DOT&PF Oct. 30. She emphasized that air cargo use is just one of many possible changes at the airport, with a man-made float plane pond another item under consideration.

Luper said the topics are appropriate now because Birchwood Airport’s Master Plan is being updated by DOT&PF.

"I am trying to initiate dialogue to look at the bigger picture," she said. "(Ted Stevens) Anchorage International (Airport) is strapped, and there’s no other area in Anchorage that can take the spillover from Anchorage International."

Discussions are aimed at determining the viability of air cargo use at Birchwood Airport, Luper said, adding, "This could be 10 years out."

Eklutna doesn’t envision Federal Express or United Parcel Service planes using the small airport.

"I’m thinking of smaller operators, those who fly to the Bush," Luper said. "We’re looking at small planes, not jets."

Whether there is a demand for more cargo air terminals is a matter of debate, though. Patty Sullivan of the Federal Aviation Administration challenges Luper’s assessment that Anchorage’s main airport is clogged by cargo users.

12/09/2001 - 8:00pm