Plan calls for $10m airport upgrades

NASHUA – A victim of its own success, the Nashua Airport Authority is looking at plans that will cost nearly $10 million to bring the local airport into compliance with federal safety standards.

Royce Rankin, the airport manager, said the airport has become such a popular destination for a more modern class of jet aircraft that the Federal Aviation Administration is requiring an upgrade of its runway and taxiway infrastructure.

The work would largely be paid for with federal money, Rankin said.

At the same time, the airport is also beginning to update a 1994 environmental assessment to prepare for the possibility of constructing a second runway, though the authority has not decided to move ahead with that plan. A second runway at the airport, in the northwest corner of the city, faced neighborhood opposition in the past.

“There’s a lot of different issues on the table and each one affects the other one,” Rankin said.

The authority is hosting a public meeting tonight at City Hall to unveil the projects.

More corporate jets are using the airport, which is pushing the facility to adopt a different design.

Last year, some 800 of a newer generation of corporate jets used the airport, according to Rankin, while the threshold for the new standard is about 500 such jets.

The safety standard requires a 400-foot separation between the main runway and the taxiway, where planes wait to use the main runway. The Nashua airport has only 250 feet between the two.

Ralph Nicosia-Rusin, an airport capacity program manager with the FAA’s New England office, said a larger separation is necessary for safety.

Since the newer aircraft land at faster speeds, if an incident like a blown tire occurs, more room is needed to get the plane under control, he said.

The more powerful jets approach the airport at faster speeds, of between 121-141 knots (or 140-161 mph), compared to speeds on older models of 91-121 knots (or 104-140 mph), he said. The newer jets also tend to be quieter, he said.

There are several alternatives under consideration for the city airport.

One would trim the airplane parking lot by 39 spots, creating a 300-foot separation between the runway and taxiway, and another would rebuild the main runway closer to the north edge of the property. The latter alternative would block any second runway in the future, Rankin said.

According to Rankin, the FAA has indicated it could grant a waiver to allow a 300-foot separation instead of the full 400 feet.

However the authority proceeds, Rankin said the federal government would pay for 95 percent of the construction, with the remainder split between the state and the authority.

“There’s no cheap alternative,” he said.

The airport’s control tower operates from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Last year, there were more than 115,000 takeoffs and landings, making it the second busiest general aviation airport in New England, according to the airport’s Web site.

Nicosia-Rusin said redesigning the runway and taxiway is a large project, so there is no time requirement to meet the more stringent standards. The FAA accepts an airport’s good-faith effort to come into compliance, he said.