General aviation opposes relocation of parking

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
Planned construction of two multimillion-dollar maintenance buildings at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is meeting heavy resistance from general aviation operators.

At issue is what is known as "Charlie" parking, a 157-space aircraft lot that airport officials want to transform into buildings that would displace all but 30 parking spaces for general aviation.

The move is opposed by the Alaska Airmen’s Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation, organizations whose memberships feel light aircraft would lose a valuable foothold at Anchorage International.

Construction is slated in May for the Quick Turn-around Facility, a 24,000-square-foot building just west of Charlie parking that would be used for the storage of sand and de-icing equipment and as a refueling facility.

Cost of construction is estimated at about $6 million, according to airport officials.

During the summer of 2003, a $24 million, 75,000-square-foot Field Maintenance Complex is slated for construction. The existing facility, which is used to store and service some 320 vehicles used to clear snow and maintain runways, is too small and does not meet city-code requirements, according to airport officials.

The old facility in time probably would be razed and offered as lease space for an airport-related business, said Corky Caldwell, airport operations manager.

Airport studies said that having the two new facilities closer to the airfield is safer and cheaper.

Currently, maintenance vehicles must cross a taxiway and Postmark Drive to reach the airfield. Airport officials said maintenance vehicles have been in accidents with private vehicles on the road and suffered numerous close calls with airplanes and cars.

Placing the two new buildings on the opposite side of Postmark Drive and the taxiway would save about $1 million a year in personnel and equipment costs because of shorter distances maintenance vehicles would travel during snow removal operations, according to time and distance studies performed by the airport.

The shorter distance to the runways also would mean shorter runway closures in bad weather since snowplows could reach the runways faster, according to the studies.

To replace lost parking at Charlie, construction is slated this spring on a new $3.4 million "Echo" lot, about a mile north near the Lake Hood gravel strip. The 700,000-square-foot paved parking lot is 10,000 square feet larger than Charlie parking and will accommodate about 120 airplanes, according to airport officials.

Charlie space leases for $40 a month, while the planned Echo parking would be $55 because of electrical hookups, according to airport officials.

Caldwell said surveys have shown that relocating aircraft from Charlie to Echo will put most pilots where they want to be. Charlie parking historically averages only about 100 spaces leased out of its 157-airplane capacity.

Pilots typically face long waiting lists for parking near the Lake Hood Strip, and the new Echo parking should bring relief, Caldwell said.

Further, several aircraft owners who use the airport’s Alpha and Bravo parking areas have expressed interest in relocating to Echo parking, which would free up parking for aircraft whose pilots prefer to fly off an Anchorage International runway, Caldwell said.

Several other improvements are planned for the 1,000 or so general aviation airplanes at Anchorage International and nearby Lake Hood, including taxiway upgrades and much work at the seaplane base, the world’s largest.

"We certainly recognize general aviation’s importance to Alaska," Caldwell said.

Thomas Wardleigh, board chairman of the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation, said airport officials are simply catering to large commercial airlines and pushing general aviation operators out.

Wardleigh said there is a need for the new maintenance and storage facilities, but other places at the airport are better suited.

"We’re not trying to be obstructionists," Wardleigh said. (Charlie parking) is optimum for general aviation aircraft and we’d like to keep it."

Thirty remaining airport parking spaces at the Charlie lot, Wardleigh said, is "not anywhere close to enough."

Wardleigh’s comments were echoed by Dee Hanson, executive director of the Alaska Airmen’s Association, and Tom George, Alaska regional representative for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Charlie parking is used by private operators and small- commercial operators such as guides and flight schools. Wardleigh said relocating aircraft at the new Echo parking would require all instrument-rated flights to taxi a mile to Anchorage International and cross public roads three times.

Wardleigh said it takes pilots about six minutes now to taxi from Charlie parking to an Anchorage International runway. The relocation would add about 15 minutes to that trip, he said.

The additional taxi time alone would cost a student pilot an additional $2,000 to get a license, Wardleigh said.

Another concern, Wardleigh said, is the additional noise that would be created by moving more airplanes out near the Lake Hood strip.

He said the nearby Turnagain neighborhood already is extremely sensitive to aircraft noise and a large school and a church are directly beneath the approach and departure flight paths.

Airport officials say most of the pilots who would be relocated at Echo parking already are using the Lake Hood strip so no significant noise increases are anticipated.

Having personnel, maintenance vehicles, sand and de-icing equipment located closer to the airfield lessens the chance of runway closures in inclement weather, Caldwell said.

Runway closures, which cost the airport revenue and delay passengers, also force large commercial aircraft to shift flight paths over residential areas, according to airport officials.

04/14/2002 - 8:00pm