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Waterloo City Council votes to close an airport runway

Waterloo City Council votes to close an airport runway

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WATERLOO — One of the Waterloo Regional Airport’s three runways is slated to close despite objections from general aviation pilots and the airport board.

City Council members voted unanimously Monday to authorize Airport Director Keith Kaspari to begin working with the Federal Aviation Administration to decommission runway 6-24.

Kaspari had supported closing what is the shortest of the runways because it was in very poor condition, ineligible for federal repair grants and handled less than 3 percent of the airport’s takeoffs and landings.

But the move drew strong objections from local general aviation pilots who said the runway was needed when strong cross winds made it difficult for small aircraft to land safety on the other runways.

“This issue is too important to the safety of our pilots and to our community’s long-term economic effect,” said pilot Joel Harris, who had urged the city to put more study into the issue before closing the runway.

Jeff Engel, a pilot who uses the airport for his business, said he didn’t believe people understood the impact of the general aviation activity at the airport as opposed to the commercial passenger jets.

“Nobody talks about the general aviation use at the airport — 19,000 flights a year versus 700 flights for American Airlines,” Engel said. “Any of those 19,000 flights could use 6-24 if the weather dictated that.

“It’s an important part of our infrastructure; it’s vital to our local economy; it contributes to our economy,” he added. “It’s an asset to the city that really should not be thrown away.”

Engineers have estimated it would cost roughly $300,000 to patch the runway’s cracks and up to $1.9 million to rebuild it for longer use.

Pilot Todd Loes suggested the $300,000 repair is less than the cost of removing the pavement eventually after it’s closed.

“If we turn around and take this asset and close it, it becomes … an extreme liability overnight,” he said.

Airport Board chairman Hugh Field said he believed the board, not the City Council, was in charge by ordinance of determining whether to decommission a runway despite a different opinion from City Attorney Martin Petersen.

“We have never discussed closing it,” Field said. “Our goal has been to keep it open as long as we can and, failing that, to come to the council and get approval for some capital improvements to it.”

Kaspari and council members said the issue came down to cost, given the large number of other capital needs facing the airport and city, and liability for possible accidents on the crumbling runway.

“Right now we don’t have the money,” said Councilwoman Sharon Juon. “We have to use our funds to benefit the most people when there are no other alternatives.”

Others noted Waterloo has the only airport in Iowa with three paved runways, while other airports in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines get by with two. They also pointed to light usage on runway 6-24.

Councilman Pat Morrissey said he was open to reconsidering the runway closure if the airport board or aviators came up with a way to pay for the repairs. It was unclear exactly how long it would be before reversing the decommissioning could occur.The Courier’s most-read 2019 business stories:

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