City councilors were briefed on the first phase of an update to the Belfast Municipal Airport (BMA) Master Plan to consider the feasibility of potentially extending the runway and making other improvements.

Currently, BMA has about 10,000 operations — takeoffs and landings — per year for a daily average of 27 operations. The existing runway is about 4,000 feet and the largest aircraft that utilizes the airport is a Pilatus PC-12.

The purpose of the Master Plan update, as outlined by James Miklas of Airport Solutions Group, is specifically to identify any improvements that need to be made to the runway in order to satisfy future operational requirements.

In addition, the Master Plan would address two questions: what the projected length requirement for the runway would be and what the reasonable alternatives are for meeting the projected runway length while taking into consideration the existing airport operational and Federal Aviation Administration, state and local regulatory environments.

Miklas explained that based on the FAA's standards, the recommended length for the runway would be 4,990 feet. However, he said based on conversations with aircraft operators and an engineering/planning assessment of the airport, a “right-sized” runway would be 4,710 feet long.

He noted in a report to councilors that extending the runway would not allow for other commercial service aircraft to operate at the airport beyond what is already there.

To achieve the additional length, Miklas said consideration was given to realigning the runway and reactivating a former crosswinds runway at the airport. He also said the city could consider constructing a taxiway parallel to the runway.

Because the parallel taxiway is considered a safety issue, Miklas said the FAA would prioritize such a project for funding over other enhancements. Typically, the FAA will fund 90 percent of a project's cost with the state and local municipality each covering 5 percent of the costs.

Based on initial projections, Miklas estimated the parallel taxiway would cost about $3.25 million and if the city also extended the runway, the project could cost between $3.75 and $4.25 million.

Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge noted the FAA would not consider the runway extension a high priority for funding.

Councilor Eric Sanders asked about whether a noise study would be conducted as part of the Master Plan update. Miklas said such a study would be completed during a future phase of the update. However, Miklas did state that many of the more modern corporate jets are becoming increasingly quieter.

Before Miklas' presentation ended, he explained the next steps that will be taken. Those include an environmental overview and implementation plan; an airport layout plan; and an aerial survey, among other elements.

City Manager Joseph Slocum stated the presentation was part of a beginning study into the feasibility of extending the runway and enhancing the airport in terms of what could be done. He pointed out that the city does not have any concrete plans at this time and any potential improvements would require additional study and communications with the public.