Oct. 20--NORFOLK -- Norfolk International Airport's plan for a parallel runway has been delayed two to three years to gather more information.
After nearly five years of work, the Federal Aviation Administration has put the proposal on hold while the airport completes a new master plan, which will provide an updated forecast of air-travel demand.
"We need to get a better idea of where the airport is and where it's going to be to help us make a better decision on the need for the runway project," said Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman.
Airport officials said they were disappointed and frustrated by the decision.
"There was no indication there were any issues that would forestall the project," said Wayne Shank, airport deputy executive director.
He said the delay could push the opening of a new runway to as late as 2010. It originally was scheduled to open in 2007. Reports show that the main 9,000-foot runway is expected to reach capacity, which means it could not handle additional flights, sometime after 2010.
"The parallel runway isn't just a capacity issue for us," Shank said. "We're one of the few, maybe the only, airport our size that does not have a backup runway, and we desperately need one."
Because the airport has only one runway that can handle large commercial airplanes, air travel grinds to a halt when the main runway is closed for any period of time.
That happened last month when an air-show pilot made an emergency landing at the airport in his small private plane, closing the runway for three hours. Hundreds of travelers were stranded when seven flights were canceled and 15 were delayed.
"We were basically out of business," Shank said. "Whenever our passengers are inconvenienced, that's a major concern to us."
In 2004, the runway closed 41 times, for a total of 34 hours , for aircraft emergencies, snow removal, rubber removal and repairs. All maintenance must be done from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. , the only hours the runway is not in use.
Shank said the master plan will be finished next year. It then could take another year or so to update other runway study information, which will be up to seven years old.
"I would not be surprised if we're looking at a two- to three-year delay," he said.
The airport handles about 200 commercial flights a day, as well as significant cargo and private aircraft. Evaluations have concluded that the airport's runway system is the primary constraint on long-term growth.
The proposed runway would cost more than $100 million.
The options being studied include an 8,000-foot runway, which would extend into Lake Whitehurst, and a 6,000-foot runway, which would use only existing land but would not allow for commercial growth because it could not accommodate big jets.
A parallel runway at 8,000 feet would allow the airport to handle expected growth through 2030, studies show.
Depending on which option is chosen, the number of homes that would be added to the airport's noise zone would be between 43 and 137. Seven to 62 acres of wetland could be destroyed. Lake Whitehurst, a city reservoir, could shrink by 36 acres, or about 9 percent, and 108 million gallons of water.
Several public hearings on the proposal were held. Most residents were supportive but wanted assurances that the runway's effect on water quality and noise levels would be minimal.
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