Expansion, Closure, Relocation, or No Changes for the Kalispell City Airport

An organization of neighbors around the Kalispell City Airport does not want the airport to expand. A weekend plane crash throws many of their concerns back into the forefront. The plane crashed into a home on the west side of Kalispell shortly after takeoff. No one was seriously injured in the wreck.

The city has been looking at changes to the airport for several years. These changes would involve shifting the runway south, purchasing property to create larger safety zones around the runway, and doing these changes with Federal Aviation Administration funds. City Attorney Charlie Harball said the city considers the airport an asset it already owns.

“We have private individuals who have invested a great deal of their own, private money in the airport for hangars and that type of thing,” Harball said, “there is business that’s operated out of the airport, there are people who come and go to the city of Kalispell from the airport. So, there is an economic opportunity there at the airport that’s being fulfilled.” Harball said the question before the Kalispell City Council is how much should it improve the airport to continue the economic opportunities.

Scott Davis speaks on behalf of Quiet Skies, an organization of residents Davis said started up almost seven years ago to stop the city airport from expanding, “a lot of us were kind of concerned because we didn’t want larger, faster, heavier, noisier aircraft coming into our city,” Davis said.

The Kalispell City Council is awaiting a report from an engineering company looking at several options for the future of the airport. These options include doing nothing, closing and relocating, or moving forward with a project funded through the F-A-A to remove radio towers in the flight path south of town, move the runway south, and purchase property surrounding the runway.

One of the businesses at the airport operates a flying school for airplane and helicopter training. Davis said they’d like to see that go, increased regulations, and new management. He said they’re also concerned about the city taking funding from the F-A-A for the changes. Davis said they worry the city will lose control, be required to be available for larger jets, longer operating hours, and other requirements as a federal project.

“We just had a plane crash, do we want a plane twice as big to do that? So, those options, I don’t think are very viable. The only options that Quiet Skies members have said that they would support would be the one to relocate it out northwest of town,” Davis said.

City Attorney Charlie Harball said the biggest obstacle to relocating the airport would likely be the expense of buying new land, and starting from scratch building infrastructure. Harball said the proposed changes being considered address safety concerns for the neighborhood with moving the runway south about 1-thousand-feet and shifting the direction.  He said even if the council decides to go forward with changes to the airport and using F-A-A funding, “the airport can be regulated to the degree it needs to, to keep it safe, to the degree that noise abatement is followed,” Harball said.

The city *would* have to meet F-A-A standards by accepting the money, and regulations could not be more restrictive than federal guidelines. The City Council expects to receive the engineers report by the end of the month when it will also go out for public review. The Council hopes to make a decision in mid-March.

 

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