Sunday, January 3, 2016

City Envisions Airport’s Future: Cape Air Reaches 10,000-Passenger Mark Again at Lebanon Municipal Airport (KLEB), Grafton County, New Hampshire

Snow removal equipment is stored outdoors at the Lebanon Municipal Airport in West Lebanon, N.H., on January 2, 2016. A $34.9 million consultants' proposal includes a larger building for the airport's maintenance equipment.

 A private plane takes off from Lebanon Municipal Airport in West Lebanon, N.H, on January 2, 2016. A public forum is to be held on Tuesday, January 5, 2016, to get feedback on a $34.9 million proposal to improve the airport, including the construction of two hangars to accommodate larger aircraft. 

Lebanon — Cape Air marked its fourth consecutive year of hitting its target of 10,000 people leaving from the Lebanon Municipal Airport, the company announced in a news release last week.

While the airport’s usage has remained relatively steady since 2012, the airport itself — its noise, lights, environmental impacts and cost to taxpayers — continues to be controversial.

In order to formulate a community-supported plan for the airport’s future, the city has hired consultants to lead a $400,000 master planning process.

It’s an opportunity that City Councilor Sue Prentiss characterized as “one of the last big hopes that we have as a community to agree on a direction (and to) put it in place.”

The council approved an airport “vision statement” in October: “The Lebanon Airport will be a community asset with optimized air service through financially self-sustaining means, while minimizing negative environmental and social impacts.”

Since then — with the city’s vision in mind — consultants from Binghamton, N.Y.-based McFarland Johnson have put together a collection of possible improvements to the airport’s runways, taxiways and buildings.

The improvements would address goals such as improving runway safety areas — the space surrounding ends of both runways necessary to reduce the risk of damage to aircraft — maintaining runway lengths of 5,500 feet, improving the surface of the runways, taxiways, parking lot and Airpark Road, expanding the snow removal equipment building and the aircraft rescue and fire fighting building and allowing for the construction of two new hangars to generate revenue to support the airport, according to the information posted online last week in advance of a public input session scheduled for Tuesday.

In addition to meeting the city’s vision for the airport, the consultants also factored in Federal Aviation Administration regulatory requirements, aircraft needs and the development constraints present on the site.

Those constraints include steep grade changes, limits of the airport’s property boundary, the locations of Interstate 89 and Airpark Road, the presence of wetlands on the property, neighboring land uses, including residential neighborhoods, and available funding.

Airport projects are typically funded 90 percent through the FAA, 5 percent through the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and 5 percent through the city. The city’s share is drawn from passenger facility charges for passengers who get on planes in Lebanon, other airport revenue and the city’s general fund.

Though the consultants provided estimated costs for the runway improvement alternatives in their draft report available online, they do not yet have cost figures for taxiway or building improvements.

“(There are) big chunks of this that will be in upcoming chapters,” said Airport Manager Rick Dyment. “Cost-financing would be one.”

The consultants’ preferred alternatives reflect an attempt to balance the regulatory requirements with the community’s preferences for minimizing the airport’s impact on surrounding areas.

For example, in place of standard runway safety areas of 500 feet wide by 1,000 feet long, in some instances the consultants recommend installing an “engineered materials arresting system,” which uses crushable concrete blocks, placed at the end of a runway, that are designed to stop a plane without injuring those on board and causing minimal damage to the plane.

Though these systems take up less space than a typical safety area, they still comply with FAA regulations, according to the consultants’ draft report.

Currently, only one end of one of the two runways at Lebanon’s airport meet the FAA’s requirements for safety areas.

After considering six runway improvement options — including no-build — the consultants selected the sixth option. If the city opts to move forward, this alternative would include adding engineered material arresting systems to one end of each runway. It would also start the beginning of one end of each runway before the pavement begins — what is known as a displaced threshold.

This alternative is expected to cost $34.9 million, including a local share of $1.75 million.

After considering three taxiway improvement options — including no-build — the consultants recommended reconstructing the pavement on both taxiways and both runways and extending the north-south taxiway south to the end of the runway. The construction would be done in phases so as to minimize the effect on airport operations.

The consultants also recommend reconstructing the parking lot and Airpark Road, expanding the snow removal equipment building and the aircraft rescue and fire fighting building and constructing two new hangars — one 16,800 square feet in area and the other 45,000 square feet.

Dyment declined to offer his own thoughts on the consultants’ proposals. Instead, he said, his job is to share the information with the public, listen to feedback and move forward.

Poverty Lane resident Susan Almy, a Democratic state representative from Lebanon, said on Thursday she had not had a chance to review the consultants’ report. Overall, however, she said, “Anything that is going to be increasing (the airport’s) footprint again is going to (be) bad for a lot of things I care about.”

Almy also sits on the city’s Conservation Commission.

Prentiss, the city councilor, said she does not want the airport to grow, but would like it to become financially self-sustaining. It’s important to find a way for the city’s residents to coexist with the airport, she said.

“The reality is it’s not going away,” she said.

Overall, she said, the report does not contain any big surprises. She said she was glad to see there are some alternatives to the standard safety areas, which could have less of an impact on neighbors and the environment.

“To know that there are alternatives gives me some peace that we have some options that we can chew on that are going to be better,” she said.

In future conversations with the consultants, she said, she would look for more information about what it would take to construct an engineered material arresting system.

Prentiss also said the consultants’ report made it clear to her that, while there may be opportunities to grow the corporate sector of the airport’s business, the airport is reliant on the revenue generated by its commercial service.

Hitting the 10,000 mark for passengers getting on commercial planes in Lebanon in 2015 makes Lebanon eligible for $1 million through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Improvement Program in 2017.

Cape Air spokeswoman Amanda Carlo said the company aims to meet the goal for the fifth straight year in 2016.

“We’re really thrilled that we keep showing that there’s a lot of interest in (traveling to the Lebanon) area,” Carlo said.

Cape Air operates daily flights between Lebanon and Boston and Lebanon and White Plains, N.Y. The White Plains flights include ground transportation into Manhattan.

To meet the goal in 2015, Cape Air began offering discounted flights in June. Some fares from Lebanon to Boston were discounted to $49 each way, down from a regular price of $72.10 or more. Some fares to White Plains, N.Y., were discounted to $99 each way, down from a regular price of $136.50 or more.

In celebration of reaching the 10,000 mark, the airport and Cape Air will offer free refreshments to passengers and airport visitors this week.

Overall, the master plan consultants predict slight growth in the number of people leaving from Lebanon on commercial flights from 10,800 in 2015 to 13,600 in 2030, and similar growth in the total number of planes — private, military and commercial — taking off and landing in Lebanon from approximately 29,800 in 2015 to 31,800 in 2030. This growth is consistent with previous forecasts and with national trends.

Tuesday’s airport master plan public input session is set to take place at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon at 6:30 p.m.

Those who are unable to attend the session are invited to submit comments via email to or via mail to McFarland Johnson, LEB Comprehensive Airport Master Plan, 49 Court St., Metrocenter, P.O. Box 1980, Binghamton, N.Y. 13902-1980. Comments will be accepted until Jan. 19.

More information about the airport master plan is available at

Story and photo gallery:

Eight Cape Air passengers board a full-capacity noontime flight bound for New York City at Lebanon Municipal Airport in West Lebanon, N.H., on January 2, 2016. The airline flew over 10,000 passengers from Lebanon in 2015, which qualifies the airport for a $1 million federal subsidy in 2017.

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