By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Jerry Ludke, the port’s airport and marinas manager, said the port is seeking to remove the trees to lift a recent Federal Aviation Administration restriction against planes using what are called “instrument approaches” at night to land at the port-owned William R. Fairchild International Airport.
Ludke said the FAA issued the restriction April 28 because trees at the city’s 147-acre Lincoln Park were encroaching into the protected airspace leading into the airport’s runway 26.
“They just don’t allow obstacles in [that airspace],” Ludke said.
“When obstacles penetrate this protected airspace, they need to be addressed.”
The usable amount of runway 26 has already been reduced from 6,350 to 5,000 feet to address the FAA’s concerns about other obstructing trees in the park, Ludke explained.
The new proposal, which ultimately will be considered by the City Council, would allow the removal of seven trees standing in the western portion of the city-owned Lincoln Park, just west of the off-leash dog park. An eighth stands in city property north of the Lincoln Park ball fields.
Park commissioners will consider recommending the proposal for council approval at tonight’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in meeting room 3 at the Vern Burton Community Center, 308 E. Fourth St.
Ludke said instrument approaches rely on pre-approved flight paths. They lay out for the pilot a known safe path into an airport.
They differ from visual approaches, in which the pilot more or less chooses his or her own path into the airport, he said.
The port also must address one tree and a utility pole, both on port property, that the FAA says are intruding into the airspace, he added.
With the restriction in place, Ludke said, many planes flying into Fairchild after sunset could have to fly 15 more miles to the west, turn around and land on the airport’s runway 8.
Depending on weather conditions, another option would be to circle the airport and land on runway 8, he said.
“It’s not so much the airport would be unusable at night; it’s the additional cost of having to fly out west and come back,” he said.
Daytime instrument approaches to runway 26 are not restricted, Ludke said. Neither are nighttime visual approaches.
Ludke said planes flying for Kenmore Air, Rite Bros. Aviation, Federal Express and the United Parcel Service, or UPS, could be affected by the runway restrictions.
The proposal comes as city and port officials are planning a joint City Council and port commissioners meeting in early June to hammer out a memorandum of understanding on how to address the larger issue of hundreds of Lincoln Park trees limiting Fairchild runway use as well as the Lincoln Park master plan.
“It should lay out the process as we move forward and should also provide clear expectation of the process and where we’re at with the Lincoln Park master plan,” City Manager Dan McKeen said.
The master plan, adopted with conditions by the council in July, calls for a suite of improvements to Lincoln Park and includes possible options for removing dozens of trees that stand as obstacles the airport’s full operation.
About 350 runway-obstructing trees were cut down in Lincoln Park in 2008, mostly in a former campground.
McKeen and Port President Jim Hallett said an agreement forged between council members and port commissioners would allow the FAA to move forward with an environmental assessment.
The assessment would scrutinize how best the trees could be addressed to maintain the viability of the airport, Hallett explained.
“Nothing can be done until an environmental assessment is conducted,” McKeen said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.