Runway Project At McGhee Tyson Great Investment

May 23--McGhee Tyson Airport will get the equivalent of a pair of new runways as a result of a $108 million improvement project, giving the facility on Alcoa Highway a modern look for the near future.

The nine-member board of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority approved the expenditure last week. The upgrade to the 9,000-foot main runways and taxiways will bring those two units, parts of which were first built during World War II, up to the standards of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The board approved two requests to launch the Airfield Modernization Program. The first was $30,490 for an FAA inspection of a new instrument landing system; the second was approval of $511,066 to CHA Consulting for initial planning. CHA will be project manager.

Federal and state money will fund 95 percent of the $108 million cost of the project, said Randal Greaves, chairman of the board's Capital Improvement Committee. About 90 percent of the total will come from the federal Airport Improvement Program funds. Five percent will come through the Tennessee Department of Transportation's Transportation Equity fund and the remainder from airport authority revenues, according to Bryan White, vice president of engineering and planning for the airport authority.

No local tax money will be involved, said Airport Authority President Bill Marrison.

The money will be well spent. Parts of both McGhee Tyson runways do not meet FAA grade requirements, and some taxiways cross the middle third of a runway, said Bill Barley, CHA's market segment vice president for aviation. The FAA understandably frowns on that design because the middle third of a runway is the point at which aircraft taking off hit their top ground speed.

Work likely will begin later this summer on the runway closest to the terminal building, White said. The project will be completed in phases over the next six years. Of great significance to airline customers is the fact that the airport will remain operational while first one runway, then the other, is undergoing work over the next few years.

When the project is completed, Knoxville's airport will have modern runways capable of handling most commercial jets except the 500-passenger Airbus A380, and it will be equipped with three instrument landing systems, said Marrison.

No fewer than 10 commercial airlines connect passengers to 21 destinations across the nation on more than 140 daily flights, according to the city of Knoxville website. In addition, more than 35,000 tons of air freight pass through the airport's cargo facilities on an annual basis.

McGhee Tyson is the premier airport in East Tennessee serving the commercial airline industry, air cargo, military aviation and general aviation. The project not only will keep McGhee Tyson functional, but it also will help ensure the safety of the airline-traveling public and will help the city and region remain economically competitive. That will be worth any temporary inconvenience.

Copyright 2014 - The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.