Heber Valley Airport to Resume Master Plan Process After Record Air Traffic During 2020
Even in the middle of a pandemic, the Heber Valley Airport is seeing record numbers of arrivals and departures. The pandemic has also slowed the work being done to update the airport master plan, but it will kick off again starting April 1.
The Heber Valley Airport master plan update was launched a year ago but was paused when the pandemic hit. The data-gathering and analysis continued and the latest update to the master plan will be shown in a virtual open house on April 1.
Heber City Manager Matt Brower doesn’t know how to explain the big jump in the numbers. In 2019, the number of arrivals and departures in July was 25. In 2020 – those numbers jumped to 55. Brower says it’s something they’re seeing throughout town.
“You know, I don't know we're seeing a significant increase in city facilities across the board, not only at the airport, but in traffic on Main Street in our restaurants,” Brower said. “So, we're seeing a lot of interest in here during the pandemic, so I think it's something that we've seen over 2020 it's quite hard to explain, quite frankly.”
Because the airport received federal grants in the 1990s to make improvements to its facilities, it must now follow federal safety operational standards.
The airport has more than 500 operations a year, which Brower says triggers the question of whether safety improvements are needed.
“What we have found through the forecast is that we're seeing larger aircraft coming to the airport, which means we got to consider the facilities they need so they can fly and take off the land safely,” he said.
Aviation engineer Jeremy McAllister, who is leading the master plan update, says any expansion to the airport doesn’t mean the airport gets bigger – just that it has to accommodate all the jets using the airport.
“What is driving the conversation about increasing the safety areas is faster aircraft, not larger aircraft and so the aircraft that are coming in faster need, you know, bigger buffers, I would compare them to runway shoulders on the highway, so to speak, we don't need to add another lane of traffic,” McAllister said. “Our capacity is just fine at the airport, we don't need to increase capacity, the runway can accommodate all the traffic it's receiving. What it is inadequate for and what the forecast will show is that we're receiving more aircraft that are coming faster that require larger safety areas than when it was currently designed for.”
The agreements the airport has in place with the FAA say that the airport cannot restrict any aircraft that can safely fly in and out of the airport.
Three of the master plan chapters are complete and posted online. At the April 1 hearing, they’ll begin discussing the fourth chapter – the future forecast.
“Which takes a deep dive look into the traffic that we're currently receiving, but also the anticipated traffic over the next, we look at … three time intervals,” McAllister said. “They're called the short term the medium term and the long term. And so, we look at a zero to five year five to 10 year and then out to 20-year snapshot of what we anticipate the traffic to be.
Even though the airport has seen a big jump in use, McAllister is forecasting that the future year over year increases will be marginal – 2% at most.
Meanwhile, the city is still involved in a lawsuit filed by the airports Fixed Based Operation, OK3 Air. Brower says he can’t comment on ongoing lawsuits but said they do hope to settle the lawsuit and get it resolved shortly.