Note: This story was last updated at 2 a.m.
There are additional steps and approvals required, but if all goes well, construction on the Oak Ridge Airport on the west end of town could start in late 2018 or early 2019, officials said Wednesday.
The airport could still cost an estimated $35 million to $40 million, officials said. It would be funded with a mix of federal funding, state aeronautical commission funding, and local funding from the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, or MKAA.
On Wednesday, the MKAA General Aviation Committee approved an airport layout plan during a meeting at McGhee Tyson Airport in Alcoa. The plan will now be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration for review and approval.
“It’s a very important step for us,” said Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.
The Oak Ridge Airport, which could accommodate general aviation and corporate aircraft but not airlines, would be on the south side of Heritage Center, the former K-25 site in west Oak Ridge. It would have a 5,000-foot runway running parallel to State Route 58 that would accommodate nearly all corporate aircraft. Airport construction could take about 1.5 years, Marrison said.
The FAA has already approved the site, Marrison said. He said the airport layout plan is a detailed document that includes runway lengths, approaches, runway ramps, and taxiways.
The airport could be expanded later with a full taxiway, more hangars, more ramps, and another 1,000 feet of runway. The runway could also be widened from 75 feet to 100 feet. The larger runway could serve the largest general aviation aircraft.
There could be three to four full-time employees at the airport, Marrison said. Forty aircraft are expected to be based there at first, in different types of hangars, including group and individual hangars.
“It helps us accommodate the region,” Marrison said. The airport would be the third for the MKAA. Airplane hangars are full at McGhee Tyson Airport and at Downtown Island Airport in Knoxville, which has a 3,500-foot runway and a waiting list.
“We have a need,” Marrison said.
Also, the general aviation airport will make the industrial parks in west Oak Ridge more attractive, Marrison said.
The airport will serve airplanes flying under instrument flying rules, or IFR, in addition to those flying under visual flying rules, or VFR. There won’t be a control tower at the airport; instead, aircraft will be controlled out of McGhee Tyson, Marrison said.
The airport layout plan that was sent to the FAA on Wednesday could be considered by the full MKAA board later, after it’s received back from the FAA.
The U.S. Department of Energy is ready to transfer about 170 acres to the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority subject to FAA approval, said Billy Stair, one of the presenters at Wednesday’s meeting.
Stair said some airport-related issues are being worked on in parallel with the master plan. They include, for example, a potential re-routing of Blair Road and a DOE haul road, building demolition, and issues related to power lines and a railroad.
“We’re working on all these issues,” said Stair, a former communications director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “I have the sense today that they’re all going to work out.”
He said there are direct and indirect funding sources:
- Department of Energy (land)
- Appalachian Regional Commission
- Tennessee Aeronautics Commission
- Tennessee Department of Transportation
Although he couldn’t list specific commitments from all the agencies, Stair said he is confident that enough money will be generated for the project if the cost estimate is sound.
If the FAA approves the site plan, Stair said he believes the other issues will be solved.
The airport project started with a 2009 request from the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, or CROET, which redevelops former federal property for private commercial and industrial use. Since then, the project has involved a large number of local, state, and federal “stakeholders,” Stair said. He said it has broad political support, including from the state’s governor and legislative delegation, Oak Ridge City Council and Roane County Commission, state and federal agencies, the business community, and regional pilots.
There were three milestones in the first phase of the project: identifying potential sites in 2011, evaluating design and costs in 2012, and defining the uses and economic benefits in 2013, Stair said.
Heritage Center, also known as East Tennessee Technology Park, was selected because it had the best combination of costs, access, economic assets, and environmental compatibility, Stair said.
The project became eligible for FAA funding in January 2015, when it was included in the National Program of Integrated Airport Systems. In August that year, the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission funded development of an airport master plan.
The final phase has six milestones, Stair said:
- DOE finding of no significant impact (January 2016),
- develop master plan (April 2017),
- FAA review of master plan,
- secure funding sources,
- transfer land, and
Also Wednesday, the General Aviation Committee forwarded two items to the MKAA board of directors. One would have CHA Consulting Inc., project manager for a $108 million airfield improvement project at McGhee Tyson, manage the Oak Ridge Airport project for 24 months at a cost of up to about $680,000. Project like the proposed Oak Ridge Airport require a lot of staff time and expertise, Marrison said, and only one or two airports are built per year.
A second item sent to the full board is related to an environmental assessment. The U.S. Department of Energy did an environmental assessment of the proposed Oak Ridge Airport and it found no significant impact, but it’s not an FAA environmental assessment, Marrison said. Though officials would like to use the DOE assessment to develop the FAA assessment, they may need additional noise and airspace studies, for example.
More information will be added as it becomes available.