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Air Force runway project gets second land study


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POSTED: Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Air Force will conduct a supplemental environmental study on building a $30.3 million auxiliary runway at Keahole Airport in Kona that would be used to train C-17 Globemaster cargo jet pilots in short-landing field operations.

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Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Hickam Air Force Base spokesman, said the first environmental assessment was completed in 2005.

However, work was never started on the proposed auxiliary runway, which will be used by the eight C-17 Globemaster jets based at Hickam Air Force Base, because money was never appropriated for the project. The Air Force said it is hoping that Congress will authorize the needed $30 million this year so construction money can be added to the Pentagon budget now under review. If that happens, work could begin by late summer 2010.

Air Force regulations require a supplemental environmental assessment if no work is started within five years, Smith added.

Smith said the second study will begin in June and take nine months to complete. The public will be given 30 days to comment on the draft after it is completed.

The proposed 3,950-foot “;Kona auxiliary training runway”; will be built on the makai side of the current runway. State transportation officials are working with the Air Force to ensure that it is long enough to be used as an alternative runway during emergencies.

In 2005 the Air Force completed an environmental assessment of what it calls a “;short austere airfield,”; which is needed to keep its C-17 pilots proficient in short takeoffs and landings on semi-improved runways used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The 174-foot C-17 Globemaster jet can land on runways as short as 3,500 feet and on unimproved dirt fields. By contrast, the runways at Honolulu Airport are 12,000 feet long.

In picking the state airport at Kona four years ago, the Air Force rejected use of 20 airfields, including those at Kalaeloa in Leeward Oahu, the Pacific Missile Range on Kauai and Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay. However, in the interim, Air Force and Hawaii Air Guard pilots have been given a temporary waiver to use the Kaneohe Bay and Kalaeloa runways to stay proficient. Paint marks are used to simulate the shorter runway length

The 2005 environmental assessment found “;no significant adverse impacts to developing a mutually beneficial military-civilian partnership at KOA (Kona Airport).”;

Past Air Force tests showed that increased C-17 traffic will not raise the noise level at Kona since the jet is quieter than many of the civilian aircraft that fly there now.

The Air Force has said that during takeoffs and landings the C-17 generates less noise than the Boeing 747, Boeing 737, DC-10 and DC-9 jets.

Thomas said the Air Force estimates a maximum of 40 C-17 flights to Kona a month. There will be a maximum of four training takeoffs and landings per day—two in the day and two at night.

Thomas said Kona now accommodates 54 daily commercial flights and 318 commercial carrier flights per week.