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County’s airport study points out pros, cons

September 3, 2014

Bob Wadell of Wadell Engineering Corporation (seated, center) presents an airport layout plan for the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport to the Bishop City Council and audience members on Aug. 25. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

Just as the City of Bishop is in the middle of planning for future economic development, Inyo County is in the process of getting public as well as professional input on its planned improvements of the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport – seen as a potential money-maker for the region.
In addition to providing a number of public feedback opportunities, both past and future, the county has hired Bob Wadell of Wadell Engineering Corporation to produce a new Airport Layout Plan. A plan, which must be renewed every three years, is required in order to apply for grant funding as well as FAA certifications.
Because the county has now achieved control of “airport operations on the land where Bishop airport now sits,” a new Airport Layout Plan has been grant-funded, Inyo County Public Works Director Clint Quilter told the Bishop City Council at its Aug. 25 meeting.
Wadell was hired to assess the airport and prepare a new airport layout plan, all of which should be completed by the summer of 2015, he said. He began his presentation by saying that he “can attest to the fact” that the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport needs more commercial flights – it was a long seven-hour trip by car from San Francisco.
Wadell prefaced his PowerPoint report by giving his credentials. He has been airport planning and engineering for 40 years and has worked on more than 450 projects nationally and globally.
According to Wadell, some of the issues that his study will include are: updating the inventory of facility, establishing a forecast of demand for future services, determining new facility needs and planning and depicting facilities that meet Federal Aviation Administration standards.
The airport update project will be 90 percent funded by an FAA grant. The remainder will come from state aeronautics matching the federal grant and county funds and labor.
Wadell said he will also provide new aerial photography and mapping; general and commercial aviation traffic forecasts; a 20-year capital improvement program and costs; as well as facilities needs.
Determining facilities needs will result in “four key drawings,” Wadell explained – the most important one is the airport layout plan. The FAA uses the layout plan to fund all projects. “All development on the airport must be in accordance with an approved airport layout plan, whether it’s funded by federal or private money.”
Overall, the Bishop airport is well located and is “actually a pretty big airport,” said Wadell, but it is overdue for many improvements.
In addition to assessing the Bishop airport, Wadell’s study considers the conditions of existing facilities, parameters of necessary runway and taxiway development, hangar installation; community support of facilities such as the “important” fire fighter tanker base, facilities; and needed facilities for military and large transient aircraft.
Also under consideration is becoming a weather alternate. “If planes can’t land in Mammoth, they could come here and land. Passengers are thankful to land” and when they realize what a great place Bishop is, they may want to come back to visit. Additionally, in the future, Wadell said the airport could be certificated to allow new passengers at Bishop to embark on those flights.
Wadell’s presentation revealed many pros and cons.
Cons:
• Runways with significant cracks, some of which are at least 12 inches wide – “there’s a lot of work to be done;”
• No commercial airline service;
• All airport lighting must be redesigned.
Pros:
• More, wider, longer runways than any airport between Reno and Mojave and they can be made longer and wider;
• “Very strong” runways that can withstand 240,000 pounds and “can handle some heavy aircraft … 737 size and even more. Airlines want to subsidize smaller airports, that’s not uncommon;”
• Good weather, minimum winds and crosswinds, no snow and lower elevations (than Mammoth) which planes prefer;
• Unlimited space for additional hangers;
• Located only two miles from downtown Bishop, where “you can stop and have something from the bakery;” Mammoth airport is 35 miles from Mammoth Lakes;
• Unlimited night and directional use;
• Has the only two federally-owned and -operated directed navigational aids between Reno and Mojave – “That’s very useful and very important;”
• Terminal area is relatively large with room for more hangars.
Wadell concluded his presentation by acknowledging the importance of public feedback.
Quilter said that the county Board of Supervisors, Bishop City Council and community members have had a chance to weigh in on the airport plan – and additional reviews and venues will be forthcoming.
Quilter said that an upgraded airport could stimulate more tourism as well as attract industry and high tech companies, especially “in conjunction with the Digital 395 Project.” His observation was in line with one public comment that expanded airport services would help Bishop grow and become stronger economically, creating an Eastern Sierra commercial hub.
To submit feedback and input on the Airport Layout Plan, Quilter urged the public to send e-mails to bishopairportplan@ inyocounty.us.

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