Spokane airport officials say the Federal Aviation Administration has told them to submit a detailed study justifying a 3,000-foot extension of the main runway.
The recent FAA decision marks an important step in a three-year effort to extend the runway and allow for heavier aircraft to take off from the airport, said spokesman Todd Woodard.
"That study is the key component in the rest of the runway process," he said.
If the FAA approves the project, which would increase the length of the current 9,000-foot runway by a third, the extension would also help with airport plans to enhance the cargo capacity of aircraft, said Woodard.
The projected cost of the extension comes to roughly $28 million.
Most of that cost - about $20 million - is for concrete installation. The rest would cover land acquisition, relocation of navigational devices at the southwest end of the main runway and rerouting of a section of a county road.
The FAA could approve a shorter extension if officials decide the 3,000-foot request isn't needed, said Woodard.
When beginning the process, Spokane airport planners saw the southwest end of the runway as the obvious place for expansion. "At the other (northeast end) we would have to purchase land that is more populated and developed, which would further complicate the project," said Woodard.
The airport has hired an airport industry contractor to prepare the report that will be submitted to the FAA by the end of the summer.
If approved, the extension would likely be completed in 2009, said Woodard. It would then allow flights to take off from the main runway with heavier cargo loads and in some cases more passengers, under some weather conditions.
Summer temperatures above 83 degrees reduce the lift for some passenger and cargo aircraft, forcing them to restrict their weight, said Woodard.
A similar restriction applies in December and January when weight limits are imposed on flights that must cross the Rocky Mountains. Because of excessive winds, those flights must carry sufficient fuel for possible diverted landings at other cities.
"We take a weight penalty on some hot days and some cold days," Woodard said. He said about 400 planes left Spokane's airport in 2004 under weight restrictions that reduced total loads of cargo or passengers.
On a longer runway such flights can carry more weight because they would generate more lift than they can currently, said Woodard.
The full expansion will require buying about 25 acres of land outside the current airport property. The airport has spent about $2 million on land in that section and would continue buying the remaining property, said Woodard.
With an extra 3,000 feet, the main runway would still fall 1,900 feet short of Fairchild Air Force Base's runway, which is about 13,900 feet long.
Money for the runway extension would come from the airport's passenger facility charges. That $4.50-per-ticket fee is collected by the airlines and then distributed to the airport.
Current length of main Spokane International Airport runway: 9,000 feet
Length of Fairchild Air Force Base runway: 13,901 feet
Width of SIA runway: 120 feet
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