Interview with Micah Risher, Easton Airport Manager
Easton Airport’s Runway Improvement Project will take place in phases over approximately the next 7 to 10 years. A number of enabling projects are currently underway and must be completed before the new runway can be constructed. The Airport’s Obstruction Removal Program will be the most visible to the surrounding community.
EEDC: What’s this runway improvement all about?
Micah Risher (MR): This is essentially a shift that will slide the current runway to the southwest and create a 1,000 feet safety area on either end of the runway. We need that because we’re currently out of compliance with the FAA design standards and operating under a waiver. We do have the thousand feet now, but we do it by restricting the operators.
EEDC: What kind of restrictions?
MR: They have to operate much lighter planes for one. Also, some aircraft aren’t able to operate on that runway in different weather conditions. So, we’re trying to get all those restrictions lifted.
EEDC: Are you expanding to bring in bigger planes?
MR: That’s the biggest misconception; that we’re becoming a Baltimore. This expansion is a safety issue. The airport was built 78 years ago during World War II before all the other roadways went in. The runway is too close to route 50 now, which is why we’re going southwest towards the Glebe Road area.
EEDC: Any other benefits besides safety?
MR: Absolutely. This will encourage some business growth at the airport, which is good for the economy. So, if you’re looking to do business somewhere, insurance requires that jet operators need 5,000 feet of usable runway, and Easton currently does not have that. We have 5,500 feet of pavement out there, but because of the restrictions and because we’re operating under a waiver, we cannot use the entire pavement.
There are many calculations that go into it, depending on which way you’re using the runway, and winds, and weather conditions. And if the runway is wet, there’s another set of calculations. So, although we have 5,500 feet of pavement, sometimes we can only use roughly 4,700 feet.
The bottom line is that if you’re operating a business jet up and down the East Coast and need to refuel and it’s a drizzly day and Easton has wet pavement, they’re not going to land here because their insurance won’t let them.
EEDC: That does create a huge problem.
MR: It does. Now we are not desirable for all users. Once we make these improvements with the safety areas, and once we have the new runway length, which will be 6,400 feet, it’ll all be usable. And that will make Easton an attractive place for people to want to bring their aircraft. This means there is an increased possibility for businesses to relocate their headquarters here because their board of directors can fly out of the airport now.
EEDC: I read that this is being done in phases. Have you started?
MR: Right now, we are in the first phases of removing the obstructions, and FAA makes you get rid of the trees first. We have removed approximately 10 acres of trees off the Talbot County business center parcel to prepare for a future airfield. The parcel that we cleared is going to be part of the future safety area. That parcel will also have a new ILS (Instrument Landing System) located there, a perimeter road for the airport, and a new approach lighting system.
We have a very old ILS which we got secondhand from another airport. It’s probably about 50 years old. Once we relocate and have the safety area, we’ll put that equipment directly at the end of the runway and have a much more reliable signal.
We’ll also be installing a new approach lighting system, as we currently don’t have one. These will be lights at the end of the runway to help guide the aircraft to the runway. It’ll be something that the control tower would be able to turn on and change the intensity of. Once the aircraft is down, they’d be able to turn them off.
EEDC: What’s next?
MR: We’re hoping next year to start some of the geological work where we can go out and start doing the surveys, getting samples, and things of that nature. It’s one of those things that if FAA pushed out the money today, we’d be able to get going.
EEDC: Do you have a tentative timeline?
MR: We are projected to begin demolition of the parking lots at the business center in year 2024 and with the business center itself slated for demolition sometime around 2025. And then that will clear the way for the major earthwork and the construction of the new airfield. Once we get to the point where we’re going to start demo in the business center, the FAA will prioritize this project. So, my hope is if we begin in earnest in 2025, that we can have the new runway open in 2027.
EEDC: Lastly, we’re curious about what’s happening with your Aviation Career Education (ACE) program for interested students?
MR: ACE hasn’t done anything this year. Unfortunately, we are a victim of COVID, but we’ve recently had some conversations with at least one of the flight schools here at the airport to work out procedures that will keep everybody safe. There are a lot of teenagers and young adults that are interested in flight instructions.
We hope to have our flight simulator open for use by the flight schools soon. Right now, we’re following the lead of our public school system and waiting to see what they’ll do. Aside from that, the reason we haven’t jumped in like gangbusters is resources. There are only a couple of us that do it. One of my challenges is that the majority of volunteers are older, retired pilots. They are still taking it very cautiously and not rushing back in to be put in close quarters with young kids.
For additional information, read about Easton Airport’s Runway Improvement Project here.
New runway location with 1,000 ft. safety areas on both ends.