The Federal Aviation Administration provided a conditional approval for the proposed Oak Ridge Airport in a February letter, a consultant said Thursday.
The conditions included in the February 22 letter included the completion of a benefit cost analysis and an environmental assessment for the airport property, project consultant Billy Stair said.
In response to the conditional approval, the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority’s board of directors approved a work authorization for CHA Consulting Inc. during a June 19 meeting. CHA Consulting, which has an office in Louisville, will provide professional services for “qualifications development and agency scoping” for the design, environmental assessment, and benefit cost analysis for the proposed airport.
“This puts in motion the process for undertaking the BCA (benefit cost analysis) and EA (environmental assessment),” Stair said.
MKAA spokesperson Becky Huckaby said the work authorization for CHA Consulting was approved by the General Aviation Committee and presented to the full MKAA board by Jeff Smith, a board member and chair of the General Aviation Committee. All board members who were present on June 19 voted in favor of the committee’s recommendation, Huckaby said. Board member Julia Bentley was absent.
Stair said it is impossible to accurately predict how long each process will take because the benefit cost analysis and environmental assessment will involve review and comments by the FAA.
Officials have said that the U.S. Department of Energy has completed its own environmental assessment, so about 80 percent of that work is already done. DOE is involved because the airport would be built on about 170 acres of land that would be transferred for the airport at the Heritage Center, which is now a DOE site in west Oak Ridge.
“A substantial portion of the data needed for the EA (environmental assessment) was collected during a similar environmental assessment that accompanied the land transfer application for the airport property,” Stair said. “Similarly, the Oak Ridge BCA (benefit cost analysis) will not require the complexity needed for larger projects like those at the nation’s major metropolitan airports.”
Oak Ridge Today last reported on the airport project in December, when a layout plan had been submitted. Bill Barley, vice president of CHA Consulting, said then that a conditional approval from the FAA is standard.
If approved and funded, the airport would have a 5,000-foot runway, and it would be built on the south side of Heritage Center, the former K-25 site, along Highway 58. The runway could run roughly parallel to the highway.
Officials have said that the airport could accommodate general aviation and corporate aircraft, including small jets and King Air planes, or in the future, Lear and Gulfstream jets. The airport would not be used by airlines.
Besides an environmental assessment, other remaining steps include the land transfer from DOE, airport design, and construction. There is not a timeline for those steps yet.
There has been a rough cost estimate of $46 million for the airport. The DOE land, which has not been given to the project yet, would be provided for free. Stair has said that the biggest expense, more than half of the estimated cost, would be moving dirt.
In July 2018, Stair said officials had about $28 million “in hand,” and they believe they can get about $5 million more. So the project could require about $20 million from the FAA.
“That would be far less than they have spent on any other new general aviation airport in the last 30 years,” Stair said.
The FAA has included the project in the National Program of Integrated Airport Systems. That means it’s eligible for FAA funding. But at last check, the FAA had not yet committed to funding the project.
Oak Ridge Today reported in December 2017 that Tennessee officials had appropriated $15 million that could be used for the proposed airport. The appropriation is pending approval of the Oak Ridge Airport by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Besides the FAA, other direct and indirect funding sources for the airport include DOE, which will provide the land; Appalachian Regional Commission; Tennessee Aeronautics Commission; and Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Stair has previously said there is no funding from the City of Oak Ridge or Roane County. (Heritage Center is in the Roane County portion of Oak Ridge.)
The Oak Ridge Airport would be the third for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. The other two are McGhee Tyson in Blount County and Downtown Island in Knoxville.
See our previous story from December here.
See the timeline for the Oak Ridge Airport here.
Learn more about the Oak Ridge Airport project here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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