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Gainesville airport needs update

Committee recommends moving parked planes to install instrument landing system

POSTED: March 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Planes at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport are tethered to the ground while being parked and stored at the airport. An Instrument Landing System at the airport is ready for installation this spring, but, the system cannot be installed without making some changes in the taxi lanes, which involve constructing a new storage/parking area for the 55 planes.

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The city of Gainesville’s Aviation Advisory Committee recommended Tuesday the paving of a new parking area for tied-down airplanes to make way for an instrument landing system at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

The open space beside the airport’s longest runway is required for the system, an electronic guidance system used by pilots during periods of low visibility.

The instrument landing system was funded by Congress in fiscal year 2003 at a cost of about $1 million.

Georgia Department of Transportation funds were used to install another guidance tool, a MALSR, Medium-Intensity Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator.

The systems, which would be used by pilots with an instrument rating, have been in the works for some time.

However, the instrument landing system requires a 400 foot zone on each side with no fixed or movable objects. Currently, there are 55 planes that rent tie-down space in that zone.

Additional paving of a new taxiway leading to the runway is also required and was recommended by the committee.

The committee, which met with city officials, a DOT representative and three people from the Federal Aviation Administration, determined that an area beside the smaller runway could be paved to accommodate the planes.

The city is under a deadline of July 31 when the FAA will update the approach plates, the instrument approach procedures for the airport.

If the deadline is missed, the instrument landing system would be listed as "out of service," and an FAA official said it could be 12 to 18 months before the Gainesville system could be placed in service. But Dave Suomi, acting manager of the FAA district office in Atlanta said the changes could be completed by the July deadline.

"I think things are in line to make this happen," Suomi said. "If we wait, we could be back here a year from now still discussing where to move these aircraft."

Suomi said his agency would be willing to grant a brief extension of the July 31 deadline, if needed.

Currently, airplanes can land at the airport if the cloud ceiling is above 382 feet and visibility is 1.5 miles. With the instrument landing system, the ceiling is reduced to 200 feet, and visibility is one-fourth to one-half mile.

When conditions prevent landing at Gainesville, flights have to be diverted to either Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville or Ben Epps Field in Athens, which are both equipped with instrument landing systems.

Fred Henry of Champion Aviation, the fixed base operator at Lee Gilmer Airport, said moving the aircraft was necessary.

"It had to be an option," said Henry, who leases the tie-down spaces to aircraft owners.

Alan Wayne, a pilot and member of the committee, said the recommendation is the best option for the airport. Many pilots were concerned that the shorter runway, known as 11-29, would have to be closed temporarily. City officials said they would not take that action without bringing it before the committee.

The recommendation now goes to the Gainesville City Council for approval.

The engineering and paving costs, estimated at $50,000, would be paid 90 percent by the FAA, 2.5 percent from the state and 2.5 percent from the city.


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