Feb. 2--NORFOLK -- New airport traffic forecasts show there will not be enough growth in flights to justify building a parallel runway at Norfolk International Airport in the next couple of decades.
New data collected for a Master Plan update show the number of take-offs and landings of commercial and private planes is about 20 percent lower than what had been projected 10 years ago.
Considering air traffic alone, consultant Christopher J. Oswald , Leigh Fisher Associates director, said, "the case would be difficult to make until 2030. "
Oswald said the numbers came up short primarily because of an unexplained decline in the number of private and corporate planes using the airport.
Airport officials, however, say there may be other reasons to justify building the runway sooner, including safety and operational flexibility.
The airport has one runway that can handle large commercial airplanes, so when it is closed for any period of time, air travel grinds to a halt. That happened last September when an air-show pilot made an emergency landing at the airport in his small private plane, closing the runway for three hours .
Over the next few months, airport officials will consider whether to continue to pursue the parallel runway, which they've been working on since 2001 .
"This is a huge disappointment for us," said Wayne Shank , deputy executive director of the airport. "The Norfolk Airport Authority doesn't want to wait. ... We're going to be looking at the alternatives."
They include seeking congressional help for approvals, building a case that does not rely on capacity needs, and proposing the runway as a replacement for the short, seldom-used crosswinds runway that has some operational shortcomings.
"We're trying our best to keep the runway on track, but it may be coming later than anticipated," Oswald said.
Currently, there are about 130,000 take-offs and landings annually at the airport. The 1995 Master Plan, which recommended building a parallel runway, projected there would be 160,000 to 190,000 . Forecasts show the airport will not hit those numbers now until close to 2030 .
Projections show that the number of passengers boarding planes at Norfolk International will grow steadily from the current 2 million to about 2.75 million in 2015 and 3.25 million in 2025 .
Airport staff and consultants hope to come up with a game plan for a parallel runway by early summer, when the master plan update is expected to be complete.
Allan Carpenter , a Norfolk resident who attended an informational meeting about the master plan Wednesday night, said he still supports a parallel runway "to keep the airport going" when there's a problem with the main runway.
"It's a good idea for that reason alone," Carpenter said.
Reach Debbie Messina at (757) 446-2588 or email@example.com.
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