ANALYSIS: Airport Expansion Proposal at Ravalli County in Hamilton, MT [6S5]

[6S5] VFR Sectional, north to KMSO and showing nearby mountainsRavalli County Airport sits approximately forty miles due south of the commercial service airport in Missoula, Montana. The airport elevation is 3,642′. To the west is the Bitterroot Range (and Idaho), with summits near 10,000′ elevation; the Sapphire Mountains are on the east edge of the valley, with summits around 9,000′.

A proposal funded by FAA calls for building a new and longer runway, the construction of new taxiways, and the addition of dozens of new hangars. Farmland and wetlands would be consumed for airport expansion. A step in the plan process is to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA).

Millions may be spent to build out this airport. None of this would even be considered if FAA did not collect billions in airline passenger fees each year, then dole them out as AIP grants. A tiny few reap financial gains in what often are crony handouts. Incumbent officials steer these grants to help ensure their reelection. And meanwhile, many near the airports see their lives diminished by noise and pollution. Maybe this pattern needs to end soon…

Here is a link to a newspaper Op/Ed by Rich Morissey, from November 19, 2013.

An Analysis:

Here are some short notes on factors that FAA and local residents might consider when deciding if this plan should be abandoned, modified, denied, or approved…

  • Should jets be discouraged from using this airport? Jets and other high performance aircraft could more safely use (and hangar at) the airport in Missoula [KMSO], which provides contract ATC services, averages more than $3 Million annually in federal grants, and has enormous capacity to add based aircraft and flights.
  • The plan shows construction of many new hangars, including numerous large hangars to accommodate jets and larger aircraft. This may be an inappropriate development for this particular area. To encourage these aircraft to base at this rural airport that is generally boxed in by tall mountain ranges only invites an eventual accident. Operations at Missoula would be far safer.
  • Destruction of wetlands and other natural terrain on and adjacent to airport property. The north half of the airport is built on and surrounded by wetlands. Should these be left alone?
  • Removal of agricultural land from production. The new runway construction on land to be acquired to the east would reduce crop land under a center-pivot.
  • Noise and leaded fuel impacts on neighbors. Deep, U-shaped valleys commonly have an amplifying effect, furthering the noise impact upon all residents. Plus, after forty years, FAA has STILL not remedied the use of lead in Avgas.
  • Conflict with ongoing residential expansion. Note the new development close-in, just southwest of the airport.
  • Compatibility with the developer of the largest subdivision in the valley, who also happens to own nearly all parcels to be sold for airport expansion.

Here is the proposed airport layout plan: [6S5] proposed airport layout For further information, please click on page two, where you will find:

  • a link to the airport webpage at Ravalli County
  • a satellite view
  • AFD airport data page
  • the local Noise Abatement guidelines
  • links to elements of the new Master Plan proposal
  • and more (added in the future).