October 16, 2011 in City

Safer airport runway opens

By The Spokesman-Review
 
PHOTOS BY DAN PELLE photo

Jacqui Halvorson, left, and David Brukardt snap photos of Stearman aircraft, piloted by Larry Tobin, James Love, David Holmes and Jeff Hamilton, during a celebration ceremony for the opening of an upgraded runway at Spokane International Airport on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location

The main runway at Spokane International Airport reopened to regular airline service on Saturday after being closed for a major upgrade in recent months.

More than 100 workers moved dirt and poured concrete to raise the northeast end of the runway by about 5 feet.

The job improves the line of sight for pilots taking off or landing.

“It is a safety improvement,” said Todd Woodard, airport spokesman.

The $30 million project was part of nearly $93.4 million in runway and apron improvements over the past several years, including extending the main runway to 11,000 feet.

The changes put Spokane in line to draw new cargo operations and allow airlines to operate more efficiently during the heat of the summer.

Airlines may also be able to schedule longer flights because of the longer runway, which will ensure that planes can carry full fuel tanks year-round. The old runway sometimes forced airlines to reduce passengers or fuel loads for safe takeoffs during hot weather, when lift on the wings is reduced, Woodard said.

The runway previously was 9,000 feet long, and its construction dates to before World War II, when the site was known as Sunset Field.

In 1941, the airport was named for Maj. Harold Geiger, an early military aviator and World War I balloonist who died in an air crash.

The designation GEG, used to identify the Spokane airport, dates to the Geiger Field era.

The field was used for military operations during World War II and the postwar era. Geiger Field became Spokane International Airport in 1960.

Reopening of the main runway will allow airlines to land during foggy weather using the airport’s instrument landing system. Air traffic had been using the cross-wind runway during construction, which does not have the instrument system.

As a result, flights were delayed or canceled during fog and rain earlier this month, and once during a storm in May.

Residents of the south side had noticed jets flying low over their homes in recent months, approaching the cross-wind runway.

Now, those flights will shift back to the main runway under normal wind conditions, ending the jet noise over the South Hill.

The airport is developing a new master plan to guide future construction, including improvements to parking and the addition of a new commercial hangar, Woodard said.


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