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Safety upgrades on the long-term itinerary for Colorado Springs Airport

August 19, 2013 Updated: August 20, 2013 at 7:22 am
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Colorado Springs Airport officials plan to spend $60 million to eliminate an intersection of two runways - the same configuration that created a mixup at a Kentucky airport in 2006, leading to a crash that killed 49 people.

But don't worry about construction work affecting flight schedules - at least not yet. The work won't take place until 2021.

The runway work is the only major project included in the airport's updated master plan, which provides a 20-year blueprint for the airport's development.

The plan is expected to be submitted Tuesday to the Federal Aviation Administration, and is also awaiting approval by the city's Land Use Review Division. Then, airport officials say, it could take eight years before FAA funding comes through.

The Springs airport was among 259 airports nationwide identified in a 2007 FAA report on "Wrong Runway Departures." The airports have one or more of eight factors that contribute to pilots taking off from the wrong runway.

The report, produced 11 months after the Kentucky crash, found that nearly half of the 80 such incidents between 1981 and 2006 happened at four major airports - Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Houston Hobby Airport, Miami International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport.

Colorado Springs has not had any such incidents; the construction project is meant to increase the odds that none will ever happen. The work will extend the airport's west runway and shift it to the south, and shorten another runway adjacent to Peterson Air Force Base.

"By decoupling these two runways, we are trying to make the airfield's configuration as simple as possible, which will make the airport safer and more efficient," said Neil Ralston, the airport's acting assistant director for planning and development, who is supervising the master plan process. "Many airports have this type of configuration, which dates back to the World War II era."

Extending the west runway also will reduce the need for weight restrictions, which will help increase the capability of the airport.

The two runways intersect at the northwest corner of the airport. The project would add 2,500 feet to the south end and remove 1,790 feet from the north end of the 11,022-foot west runway, making it about 710 feet longer. Also included would be removing 400 feet from the 8,268-foot "crosswind" runway adjacent to Peterson and a series of changes to associated taxiways. The project would only be completed if FAA grants are available, and would require two years for an environmental assessment and design before construction could begin, he said.

The Kentucky crash occurred when the pilot took off from a different runway than assigned. The runway he used was too short for a safe takeoff, and the regional jet, operated by Delta Air Lines unit Comair, went off the end before it was able to get airborne. The crash killed all 47 passengers and two of three crew members.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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