Airport acquires land for pilot safety on approach

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BONNERS FERRY — Trees growing into the instrument approach zone at the Boundary County Airport are threatening the existence of the instrument approach.

“If we don’t deal with them (the trees), the FAA will shut down the instrument approach,” said David Parker, FBO and airport manager.

Several trees have grown tall enough to become obstacles during instrument approaches.

They are a hazard, especially at night, since the objective of an instrument approach is to land at the airport utilizing instruments when conditions are below visual flight rules (VFR). Flying into a tree during approach can be fatal to the pilot and passengers.

The trees are located on private property adjacent to the airport. Two of seven parcels slated for acquisition contain houses. The airport, which is federally-funded, has received grants to buy the land under the approach zones.

“We’ve kept the landowners in the loop,” said Parker. “We hope they are willing. We want to be fair.”

Through the federal process of acquiring land, the landowners will receive at least fair-market value for their land if they sell.

 The Airport Board will be selecting a firm to conduct the land acquisition from bids.

Once the land is acquired, the trees penetrating the instrument approach zone will be cut down. The remaining trees will be managed and selectively cut as they enter the instrument approach zone.

“It’s important for all businesses who use the airport,” said Parker, which includes the emergency services Pilatus and Anheuser-Busch. “We worked hard for the instrument approach, which was installed three years ago.”

The land acquisition is projected to cost nearly one million dollars, with money coming from county, state and federal funds. Federal funds will cover 90 percent of the cost, state funds will cover three percent and county funds will cover seven percent.

A portion of the money is derived from the 25 cent tax on aviation fuel. The money collected from the fuel tax is divided amongst all airports.

Parker is hoping to finish the project in 2013, especially since the money is budgeted by the Federal Aviation Administration for this year. Parker said if the airport doesn’t utilize the money for the project this year, it will go back in the pool to be used by another airport.

“We’re lucky to be getting it,” said Parker. “We are hoping to get it done this year.”

It depends on how smoothly and quickly the process goes.”

The land acquisition has been in the airport’s plan for four to five years and now it has become a high enough priority by the FAA for action for pilot safety.

The land acquisition will also make southerly expansion of the runway in the future more feasible.

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