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Runway Expansion still debated for Ft Lauderdale

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Guest donaltopablo

Aviation consultant: Expand south runway

Kevin Gale

As the latest expert to analyze a runway expansion for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, James E. McMillen was asked if he had found a way to end the debate.

"I think the magic bullet is what they have come up with every time they have investigated it: Extend the south runway," he said. "All of this stuff has been looked at, looked at and looked at."

McMillen, an aviation consultant in Fort Lauderdale and ex-president of AeroThrust Corp., a Miami jet engine overhaul company, is giving weight to the argument being made by Friends of the Airport, a group supported in its push for an expanded south runway by tourism and aviation leaders.

While plans for the airport expansion during the past decade have called for expanding the south runway to 9,000 feet over Federal Highway, alternatives are under review. The Broward County Commission ran into a buzz saw of complaints by environmentalists and residents of Dania Beach and Hollywood, which are close to the proposed runway or along its flight path.

Among the alternatives being considered:

A new crosswind runway, which would generally run northwest to southeast

A new east-west runway on the south side of the airport, but shorter than 9,000 feet

Adding a second, parallel 9,000-foot runway on the north side of the airport next to I-595.

The study of the costs and tradeoffs of the various alternatives is being conducted by Leigh Fisher Associates, a San Francisco airport consulting firm.

The main reason cited for needing another runway is growth at the airport and a need to avoid flight delays and their related costs.

Driven by discount carriers including Southwest, Spirit and JetBlue, the airport hit 217,250 takeoffs and landings last year, 8.9 percent more than projected in the 1994 master plan for the airport. By contrast, Miami International Airport is not expected to reach pre-Sept. 11 levels until 2006, but has just built a fourth runway.

MIA expects to cut airline costs, such as fuel wasted circling for landing and idling for takeoff, by $200 million with the new fourth runway, McMillen said he heard an airport official say.

Delays at the Broward airport will cost $87 million a year by 2007, a year before the expanded south runway could open, McMillen estimates.

Picking a different option at this stage could delay a new runway past 2010, which could cut into expansion of flights. JetBlue and Spirit have already warned that delays in adding a second runway could hamper their expansion plans for the airport.

Teardown, mitigation costs

A crosswind runway seems to draw little support from any side.

The airport already gets a lot of complaints from Dania Beach residents when the existing crosswind runway is used and McMillen said it "is no solution." Realigning the diagonal runway also means the existing jet center and airport tower would have to be torn down, he said. The jet center is used by private aviation and a number of small carriers, such as those flying to islands in the Caribbean.

"We're worried about where general aviation would go," he said. "That puts a huge burden on [Fort Lauderdale] Executive Airport."

That leaves a parallel runway on the north side or a new south runway as the most likely solutions.

A second parallel north runway would mean tearing down buildings along I-595 on the north side of the airport, home to FedEx and aircraft manufacturer Embraer, who pay rent to the airport.

That runway would also mean more noise over the more heavily used northern tip of John U. Lloyd State Park, McMillen said. That would further burden Fort Lauderdale residents with noise, too - something Friends of the Airport wants to avoid.

Federal Aviation Administration specifications are a factor in Leigh Fisher's study, too, McMillen said, which was confirmed by Martin.

In bad weather requiring instrument flight rules, parallel runways must be 3,400 feet apart for simultaneous takeoffs and landings. Two runways on the north side would not have that separation, but putting a new one on the south side would.

Another factor is the FAA wants a 1,000-foot overrun safety area on the end of new runways. The existing 9,000-foot runway fits because overruns weren't required at the time, but the new runway with the overruns wouldn't fit on the north side, Martin and McMillen said.

That leads to another possible solution: A runway shorter than 9,000 feet that could be used for landings since aircraft generally require shorter distances for landing than they do takeoffs.

One alternative bandied about is a south runway that bridges over the Dania Cut-Off Canal and tearing down the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport hotel.

But McMillen said the maximum runway length without crossing U.S. 1 would be 5,400 feet, short of the 7,000-foot runway some have envisioned for landings.

A shorter runway is something Leigh Fisher is investigating under the various locations.

Bob Mikes, a Dania Beach commissioner, said he wants to see a complete analysis of all the options, but says some of them will result in condemnations "anywhere from hundreds of residents to thousands," possibly costing "hundreds of millions of dollars."

The general aviation traffic on the existing south runway is compatible with the neighborhood next door, but large commercial jets are not.

He thinks the best alternative may turn out to be two new north parallel runways, keeping the south runway as is.

Brenda Lee Chalifour, attorney for environmental group Save our Shoreline, said she thinks condemnation of homes should be a last resort and, like Mikes, is concerned about all the costs not being tallied before a decision is made.

Martin said the mid-November report would provide a range of cost estimates using FAA mitigation standards, which can involve whether to provide soundproofing or condemn buildings.

"We will do our best to explain what those ranges are," he said.

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