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FAA panel sees low risk at short FNL runway but keeps it closed

LOVELAND – A risk-management panel from the Federal Aviation Administration that visited Northern Colorado Regional Airport last week determined that a construction trailer that has obscured air traffic controllers’ view of the last 358 feet of a secondary runway poses little risk to pilot safety, but they wanted the runway to remain closed during control tower operating hours while studies continue.

Such studies are “done for anything that affects a runway or tower,” said David Ruppel, interim director for the airport, which is jointly owned by the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins and uses the location identifier FNL. “We met with them last Wednesday (Aug. 24) for a risk-management review, and they determined the risk was low from the way they looked at it resulting from the loss of sight issue from 624.”

The 2,189-foot runway, designated “624,” is a secondary “crosswind” strip at the airport and sees only about 30 to 60 uses a year, Ruppel said. The airport’s main runway, an 8,500-foot-long landing strip designated “64,” has a total annual use of around 110,000 takeoffs and landings, he said.

The issue of the short runway’s obstructed visibility was brought to the forefront at a regular meeting of the airport’s governing commission on Aug. 17 when Kelly Freeland, owner of The Flight School at the airport, asked Ruppel and commissioners whether the airport had plans to move the construction trailer “so we can once again have a ‘crosswind’ runway” for students. The location of the trailer, part of contractor Hensel Phelps’ operation to build the airport’s new $22 million, 19,400-square-foot, two-gate terminal, is blocking the airport’s mobile control tower from visually seeing the end of the runway, she said, “and it’s really becoming a hazard for our student pilots at the flight school here. Now we have no option for them if they’re up in the air and it becomes an unsafe condition.”

She said closure of the runway meant that “right now, we’re losing out on the best flying months of our entire year.”

FNL isn’t the only airport that has had this type of line-of-sight issue, Ruppel said Wednesday. While awaiting an FAA ruling, he said, he has sent a letter to pilots who use the airport to let them know what the issues are and pointed out that the short runway is closed only during the remote tower’s operating hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. “Outside of that time frame,” he said, “flight schools can use that runway and operate normally.”

It’s more difficult to let the students use the main runway, Ruppel said. “As busy as we are, it’s very difficult to shut down operations so 64 can be used.”

The FAA risk managers “have to go back to the regional administrator,” Ruppel said. “We have a request to the FAA to be able to leave the runway open and allow the tower to notify pilots that they can’t see the last 358 feet of 624. Right now, we have to continue with what we’ve got until the regional administrator makes a decision on it.”

Meanwhile, he said, “we’ll keep the runway closed until the FAA authorizes us to open it during tower hours. We’re hoping that will be quickly, but we’ll see.”

Source: BizWest