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By Mary Alice Murphy

The Grant County Airport is working on an Airport Action Plan Study for the future of the facility.

The first public information workshop was held on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Rebekah Wenger, airport manager, introduced the participants in the call, which included Elaine Pickering, P.E. project engineer, and Wendy Renier, subconsultant planner.

She also pointed out that the first survey they put out is a user/pilot survey that can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FFJJP7W Most of the questions refer to pilots and aircraft owners.

The planning study will identify specific facility improvements needed to serve future aviation demand.

Grant County has contracted with Bohannon Huston, inc. to complete the study to better understand the airport's current aviation activity and what facilities and services are important to its current or prospective users.

Wenger noted that users of the airport include the Gila National Forest, which operates out of its fire base at the airport; Advanced Air, which provides commercial services into and out of the airport to Albuquerque and Phoenix; and current and prospective tenants.

She gave some background on herself and on the history of the Grant County Airport. Wenger worked in aviation in the interior of Alaska for 20 years. When she moved to Grant County, she heard about the position and applied.

The Grant County Airport opened with joint ownership of Silver City and Grant County in 1951. In 1952, the county purchased the other half from Silver City and is now the sole owner. The Forest Service has had its fire base at the airport since 1958.

"What we're kicking off here is the action plan update," Wenger said. "In 2015, a plan was created, but it never got out of draft form. The last full study was done in 1993, so we're in need of an updated plan on where we're going and what we need. I think the airport is an underutilized asset in Grant County. We want and welcome your input. We expect the study to run 9-12 months, with expected completion in Fall 2021."

Renier said the consultant team will work closely with Wenger and the Planning Advisory Committee, which is made up of members from the Gila National Forest Aerial Fire Base, small general aviation, corporate general aviation, commercial air service, Grant County Planning and Community Development Department, Grant County General Services, the town of Silver City, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments and local business.

The design of the study has been completed and narrative report elements will include the introduction, chapter 1-inventory, chapter 2 – forecasts, chapter 3-requirements, chapter 4-alternatives and chapter 5-implementation. The public involvement portion will include four PAC meetings, two public information workshops and three project newsletters.

Inventory will include land, the buildings, fuel farm, all the key elements at the airport. Renier said forecasts will go into detail on those coming in and out of the airport. "This is critical information. Our preferred forecasts will be given to the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]."

Requirements will involve a quantitative analysis before the physical site plan is developed. Alternatives will be reviewed at the public workshop No. 2 planned for June, to identify the different options for the airport. "The PAC will do a comparative evaluation, and will tell the public about the different alternatives, as well as the preferred alternatives, which will be presented to the County Commission for final approval. The preferred alternative is most often a composite of what is most needed at the airport for long-term development. Implementation will have all the technical drawings that the FAA wants to see. There's also an airport capital improvement plan that we will put together that identifies things project-by-project that will support the overall development plan. It will also have a financial plan and will give an overview of airport revenue."

Wenger said she has seen needs to upgrade airport access, but "I want input from you, the public, because you may have a different perspective than I have as airport manager. We just completed a renovation of the commercial service terminal building, and we have a start on renovation for the general aviation terminal building. I know we need more T-hangars, because we have 11 people on the waiting list. I have a grant application in with the state for six additional T-hangars. I also get requests from transient aircraft, who may be flying across the country or who fly in during fire season, for shelter for their aircraft while they are on the ground. We also need airport equipment storage. We have enough room for our sweeper and our fire-fighting truck, but we also have a tractor mower-deck that sits out in the sun. We need security upgrades to cover more of the airport. We need utility infrastructure, including improving the power structure and water access to help bring in development. With FAA approval, we can actually have non-aviation development. Our ground transportation is our Achilles Heel. We can't get you to town. It's incredibly difficult for folks to come to town and get a rental car. You come in on a great flight with Advanced Air and you're stranded 20 miles from town. And auto parking is just a sheet of pavement. I think community input would be valuable, so we know what's important to the community."

She noted that the environment and airspace is another long-term issue they are looking at. "We have had a county zoning ordinance since 1970, so we have protection for airspace. The county didn't even know we had such an ordinance. We see a mix of fleet coming in and we're seeing a lot more corporate aircraft flying in because of being able to fly themselves in during COVID. So, we are seeing more energy and life at the airport. The US Forest Service is huge for our community. Over the years, their fire-fighting aircraft have changed. They need more runway that we can provide. We want to keep the Forest Service Fire Base. Sometimes, we have helicopters, large ones and military ones. We don't have a good place to park them. We need a specific place carved out of our 740 acres."

Wenger talked about the ARFF (aircraft rescue and fire-fighting) equipment at the airport. "We have a small truck we use for our fire-fighting response, but it only holds 400 gallons of water, 40 gallons of fire-fighting foam and 500 pounds of dry chemical. Our truck meets the FAA requirements because of the type of aircraft that come into our facility, but it doesn't take into account that we're far away from mutual aid. In case of an accident at the airport, we know we have to be able to support ourselves for at least 20 minutes. We are looking at a grant for a larger truck, because of our special needs. Our FAA representative who comes in to check things mentioned that she thought we needed a larger truck."

Renier said critical aircraft, such as the ones that use the facility during fire season will drive the airport design. Critical aircraft means the most demanding in terms of weight, speed, and wingspan. It is important for the Forest service because the airport is set up for smaller aircraft, "but it is critical that we address the larger aircraft. It drives the need for a longer runway with more pavement strength and more protection off where the runway ends."

"We want to hear your thoughts and concerns, about what is lacking or what you would like to see there in the future," Renier said.

A participant asked if military helicopters would include Ospreys.

Wenger said she has never seen an Osprey, but Blackhawks and sometimes Chinooks will come through. "They are the most common ones stationed around here and they will come through for fuel."

Ben Coffey, a general aviation pilot that uses the facility, said he thinks the airport needs a crosswind runway. "We have a dirt one, if you have a high-wing aircraft that is capable of landing on it. A low-wing aircraft is difficult to land on the dirt runway and not very safe. I think that would bring in more general aviation traffic. We primarily have wind out of the west, but sometimes it's out of the north, so Whiskey Creek is your crosswind option and that can throw a monkey wrench in your flight planning. And yes, transportation from the airport is a huge issue. And the last thing is a need for more hangar space. Linda Pecotte is training two or three students. It's a great airport for training for GA [general aviation]. I got my training there."

Reiner gave the link to the user survey again—https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FFJJP7W. "We will also have a small passenger survey at the terminals."

She also talked about the three-letter identifier for each airport. Grant County's is SVC. The international civil aviation organization identifier is KSVC, with the K being the country code referring to an airport in the U.S.

Runway numbers refer to the magnetic heading of the runway rounded to the nearest 10 degrees. For example, a runway with a magnetic heading of 187 degrees is designated as Runway 19.

The design standards are established to promote safety and are based on the most demanding aircraft at a facility, as well as those most regularly using the airport based on 500 annual operations, which is about 250 take offs and 250 landings. "We would look at the operations of the fire-fighting aircraft and what their numbers of annual operations are. We want to make sure that we meet the Forest Service needs," Renier said.

She also talked about airport reference codes, which are important for planning purposes. They consist of a letter denoting aircraft approach category and a Roman number denoting the airplane design group, which is usually wingspan, but can also be tail height.

A chart went into detail on the codes.

Existing conditions included population, altitude, distances from population centers, and other census facts.

Aviation activity showed 2019 data, such as enplanements, which totaled 5,968; and based aircraft with a total of 26, 22 of which are single-engine and four multi-engine. Operations average 109 weekly, with 1,250 annual air carrier operations, 375 air taxi, 2,000 local general aviation, 1,550 general aviation itinerant and 500 military. Cargo for 2019 was 2,467,500 pounds landed weight.

She said the next public workshop would be in the June timeframe and more detail about existing conditions would be presented at that time.

Renier said the number of enplanements for 2019 was almost 2 ½ times as many as reported in the 2015 draft study.

The operations FAA airport Master Record will be updated as part of the study.

One of the slides shown as part of the presentation detailed the airside runway and taxiway systems, as well as the landside facilities supporting the airside operations.

The airside systems are the aircraft movement systems and include the paved primary runway 8-26, the unpaved crosswind runways 3-21, 12-30 and 17-35, as well as the full-length parallel taxiway/connectors R8-26, supporting taxiways/taxilanes.

The landside facilities include two terminal buildings, the commercial one and the general aviation one. Also included are the apron area for aircraft parking/circulation, which is estimated at 60,000 square yards; aircraft storage-T-hangars and conventional/corporate hangars; aircraft rescue and fire-fighting; the fuel farm; secured access gates and fencing, utilities and drainage; and three courtesy cars.

Renier explained the inventory chapter would go into more detail on the airside and landside facilities.

Wenger said, in answer to a question from Geoffrey Plant of the Silver City Daily Press, that the work underway at the commercial and general aviation terminals, as well as current work on the taxiway, would be part of the updating in the plan. "We are fortunate to have gotten federal funding that will give us very nice airside facilities for our commercial and general aviation. It's just one piece of the plan."

Pickering said the plan allows for future improvements. "The FAA will see in the plan, for instance, that we plan to put hangars in certain places and the FAA will say, ah, yes, we see you are going to put hangars in such-and-such a place. Go ahead."

Renier presented the upcoming public opportunities. The user survey is for the month of January and "we hope to get the results out soon after the 30-day mark. In February or March, we want to get the draft introduction, inventory chapter and forecasts chapters available for review. For May and June, we plan to have the draft requirements chapter and the alternatives chapter available for review, especially at the public information workshop in June. We'll also talk at the June workshop about what the PAC's preferred alternatives are. The draft implementation chapter we expect to have available for review in August/September, with the action plan presentation to the County Commission for approval in the fall of this year. Then the county and Rebekah will have a tool on how to move forward with the recommendations in the plan."

Wenger asked that participants let other people know that the team is seeking input and wants input from the public. "It's very important that we get information from the public, so we know what's important to the public. I think our airport is underutilized."

Wenger said she can be reached through the phone number on the county website under Departments/Airport.

Renier said the first newsletter has been published and people should let Wenger know that they want to receive it.

Live from Silver City

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