This from Maria Treacy in the Western People:
Future of airport in doubt if runway extension not built
Strandhill Airport cannot afford to be complacent, its manager has warned. Speaking at the public meeting, Joe Corcoran said that the future of the airport and its employees may be in jeopardy if the green light is not given on the runway extension.
This would mean the construction of a 259 metre runway reconfiguration to the east, which would require the erecting of a platform over mudflats.
"We are hoping to develop and we cannot stand still if we want to add a new service to Manchester in May," he said.
He explained that the Project Preparation Document, which outlined the reason for re-planning in the first place, said the airport had an "obligation" to provide for runway safety.
Mr Corcoran explained that following the 2002 Euro Celtic plane crash at the airport in Strandhill, which saw an F27 plane overshoot the runway, pressure is now being placed on them by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to install Runway End Safety Areas (RESAs) at either end.
"The IAA have made it clear to us that we have to do something to come into compliance. The 'do nothing' approach is just not an option for us," he said.
He added: "We are a small regional airport with a small band of very dedicated employees and the airport is very important to them."
However, with the Atlantic Ocean close to the west end of the runway and the waters of Sligo harbour near the east end, there is no available space on the airport property on which to provide the required RESAs in a conventional manner.
"We started looking five years ago but because end to end, we have a water to water situation and only about 50/60 metres each end from the shoreline, we have to reclaim from the sea," said Mr Corcoran.
He added that there were a number of options, extension to the west, east, 50/ 50 or leaving the runway in the present condition and providing for safety area an either end.
"We went through these options with a fine tooth comb and the pros and cons were rigged out in great detail," he said.
Mr Corcoran explained that the costs of these projects were €5.1 million for the east, €10.2 million for the west while the half and half option would be around the €7 million mark.
He explained that they "looked then at how we could get the best value".
This approach would mean extending the existing 1,200 metre runway to the east by 259 metres, which would allow for RESAs at each end.
A 270 metre platform onto the mudflats at Dorrins Strand would be constructed in order to accommodate the extended runway and its graded area and the diversion of the tidal channel along Dorrins Strand, to facilitate the placement of the new runway platform, would also be required.
Mr Corcoran added that if the extension was run to the east, then cost to install approach and full runway lights system, along with the original estimate would amount €10 million.
"While we have been approved in principal, we don't have the full funding in place," he said.
He added that over the past six years, €25 million had been spent on Irish airports with Sligo receiving less than a million. The board have now applied for €12 million out of a total of €65 million to be allocated over the next five years.
However, public criticism has been expressed over the eastern choice, which could effect the livelihood of clam farmer, Noel Carter, along with the demise of natural habitat at Sligo harbour.
With opposition mounting and a call to look at the westerly option again, Mr Corcoran said that it would mean installing heavy coastal protection.
"It is possible but you're right on the rock shelf and at the edge of very deep water," he said.
"The problem is that you need something outside that to break the heavy waves, otherwise you'll have problems. There just isn't enough rock to the west."
Chairperson of Strandhill Airport, Cllr Albert Higgins said if the westerly option was chosen, there would be "no guarantee that the first storm wouldn't land it all back on top of us".
However, Cllr Higgins added that all suggestions at last Thursday's meeting would be "truly discussed at board level".
"I know I'm not an engineer, I'm not technical and I just happen to be Chairman of the Board but I can guarantee you it will go back to the board and it will be a board decision as to where we go from here," he said.