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Mon, Jun 23, 2008

Runway Extension Plan At FLL Receives FAA Approval

Project Accommodates Larger Airliners, Allows Passenger Growth Without Delays

The Federal Aviation Administration placed its stamp of approval last week on a controversial runway lengthening at South Florida’s Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport as future passenger projections pointed to significant flight delays in its current configuration.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, FLL is one of the 35 busiest airports in the US with 22.7 million total passengers in 2007. The number is expected to grow to 30.8 million by 2020. The FAA estimates average flight delays of 26 minutes will be normal by then if a second parallel airliner capable runway is not in operation by then.

Currently the airport uses only one East-West runway to accommodate commercial airliners. The southern parallel runway currently 5,276 feet long can only accommodate smaller commuter airliners and general aviation aircraft. To plan for the projected passenger growth, the FAA concluded it to be lengthened to 8,000 feet, allowing larger airliner operations.

First proposed in 1987, over two decades of delays and debate have blocked the runway project. The project stalled most recently in 2002 after public outcry over its impact on the surrounding environment and increased noise levels prompted county commissioners to back down from the project. Critics also questioned the accuracy of air traffic projections, particularly as higher gas prices drive up the cost of airline tickets and airlines cut-back on schedules. County commissioners agreed to a major review, but re-endorsed the south runway in June 2007.

To aid in quieting local concerns over noise, in its approval, the FAA agreed to nearly double an area considered to be the most impacted by the increased levels.   As a result, more than 4,500 residents south and west of the airport would be eligible to receive financial assistance to soundproof their homes including better windows and insulation. The agency disagreed to a request by Broward County officials to limit the runway's use to lessen noise.

The FAA commitment adds to $33 million already set aside by the airport for local soundproofing assistance. The airport expects to seek permission in August from county commissioners to begin a pilot soundproofing program for select homes.

Opponents of the project believe it negatively impacts the local environment as 15 acres of wetland will be destroyed for construction. To offset the damage to the wetlands, the airport agreed to pay for improvements to West Lake Park in Hollywood.

FAA will accept comments on its report through July 28 and will make a final decision this fall, clearing the airport to begin design and construction work.

Barring further delays, the project is expected to be complete by 2014 at a cost of $784 Million. The extension requires a tunnel allowing it to cross above Federal Highway and the Florida East Coast Railroad, and the runway would slope slightly upward west to east to clear the train tracks. The current crosswind southeast-to-northwest runway would be closed.

FMI: www.broward.org/airport, www.faa.gov

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