Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pilots: Federal Aviation Administration runway extension at Gnoss Field Airport (KDVO) not long enough

Pilot Matthew Podboy of San Anselmo would like to see a longer runway than the one proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

A Nanchang CJ-6 airplane takes off from Gnoss Field in Novato. The Federal Aviation Administration reduced a proposed runway extension from 1,100 feet to 300 feet. 

Craig Sonderman lives in Ohio, but as the private pilot for a half-dozen Marin County families, Sonderman has come to know Gnoss Field well.

His view: Make the 3,300-foot runway longer.

“Anytime you have a longer runway, if you have an engine go out, or any kind of problem, if you have runway in front of you — you can put it back down,” said Sonderman, who operates a Beechcraft King Air 200. “Longer is always better.”

That may be true, but a new Federal Aviation Administration proposal significantly reduces a proposed runway extension from 1,100 feet to just 300 feet at the 120-acre airport just north of Novato.

That’s because the modern aircraft that regularly use Gnoss Field don’t need that much space, according to a study conducted for the FAA by Landrum and Brown, a global aviation consulting firm.

The Class B-II Turboprop, which was determined to be the most demanding aircraft taking off and landing most frequently at the airport, does not require 4,400 feet of runway, FAA officials said.

“Class B-II Turboprop aircrafts are not jets (they have propellers) and do not require as long a runway to take off,” Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA’s Pacific Division, said in an email.

The recommendation is the latest twist in an effort by the FAA dating back to 1989 to improve safety and efficiency at local airports such as the county-owned Gnoss Field.

The proposed runway extension would be one part of a larger project that includes adjustments to the field’s taxiway, a levee extension, realignment of drainage facilities and relocation and modification of navigational aids, said Robert Goralka, principal civil engineer for the county Department of Public Works.

The estimated cost of a 300-foot extension is not yet known, but Goralka said it would be substantially less than the $14 million to $16 million price tag for the earlier 1,100-foot extension proposal.

County officials will seek FAA and Caltrans grants to help pay for final studies, design work and construction costs, he said.


The latest study that determined a 300-foot extension is appropriate cost $84,613 — paid 90 percent by an FAA grant and the remainder by the county — and examined what is known as “critical aircraft” at the air field. Critical aircraft are the most demanding aircraft that have 500 annual takeoffs and landings at an airport.

At Gnoss, that has changed in past years from the Cessna 525 Citation jet, based on 2009 forecasts, to Class B-II Turboprop aircraft, according to FAA officials. Class B-II is a designation that refers to aircraft that approach at 91 to 121 knots, have a tail height of 20 to 30 feet and a wingspan of 49 to 79 feet.

The study was commissioned after the FAA released a final environmental impact study on the project in June 2014. The review process of the study included evaluation of Gnoss’s aircraft flight data.

“Our evaluation of that data suggested that aviation activity and the critical aircraft at Gnoss Field Airport may have changed since the FAA approved the Gnoss Field Airport aviation forecast in 2009,” Gregor said.

The county will hold a public meeting on the study at 6 p.m. June 2 at the Board of Supervisors’ chamber at the Civic Center. Comments will be accepted through June 17. The FAA will then complete its supplemental environmental impact statement.

Dan Jensen, Gnoss airport manager, said initially he was surprised by the FAA’s finding that a shorter runway extension would suffice, but he said he is just happy the project is moving forward.

“It’s good,” Jensen said. “Because anything that is an extension is good (for) safety. It just makes it that much more usable for the pilots.”


Dwight Goodwin, a flight trainer with AirWard Inc. at Gnoss Field, said the 1,100-foot extension would be more beneficial, as it would not only be safer for pilots. It would also benefit those who live near the airport, he said.

“If we start taking off from farther away from those houses down there, which are noise-sensitive neighbors, we’ll be able to get higher, faster and safer and turn away from them and be quieter and then they can sleep. Whereas if the runway is 1,100 feet closer to them, we’ll be taking off closer to them and louder and they won’t like it,” Goodwin said.

Matthew Podboy, of San Anselmo, said a longer runway is beneficial for many reasons.

“It’s less stress on the engine — and that’s a noise consideration,” said Podboy, who has been licensed to fly since 1999. “It’s a more comfortable learning environment for students and a more comfortable teaching environment for instructors. I think it just psychologically has an impact on people using it.”

News of the recommended reduction comes with praise from environmentalists who in the past have raised concerns that a 1,100-foot runway extension would require filling almost 12 acres of wetlands, as well as nearly 3 acres of channels and ditches.

“It was just a greater impact than we felt was necessary,” said Susan Stompe of Novato, a director of the Marin Conservation League.

Stompe said she was delighted to learn the land would not be filled in as much as expected. The area serves as habitat for burrowing owls, harvest mice and other wetland species, she said.

Original article can be found here:

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