Airport Runway Under Federal Scrutiny

A 10-thousand foot runway has become a huge asset for the East Texas Regional Airport in Gregg County, but  federal authorities now want a safety overhaul that could cost millions.    The extended runway is a regular stopover for giants. From Russian cargo planes to commercial flights to even the space shuttle, the air traffic is an awesome sight for many East Texans.

"It's amazing where these aircraft come in here you can't believe the people who come out just to see that" says airport manager Virginia Hall.

On an average day , 400 planes leave the airport, but that could soon change. The runway has come under the scrutiny of the FAA, which requires a 1-thousand foot safety zone at each end of commercial runways. The airport's current north safety zone is less than half of that.

"We've got 10-thousand foot of runway but we don't have the addition of another 335 to 400 feet for what's called a safety zone now that their asking airports of our size to have" says Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt.

Solutions could be extending the runway by moving part of fm 322, not likely, extension on the south end, or a common sense solution. Renovating the runaway to FAA Standards could cost millions of dollars, but redefining how long it is could cost nothing.

"We just designate that airport a 9,635 foot runway and us that additional space for the safety zone" Stoudt says.

It's as simple as saying it's shorter, but the county takes federal dollars for expansion and improvements on airports.  And the FAA could recommend otherwise.

"We're under FAA regulations here, we have to operate by their standards we're doing a study right now to come up with options to try to correct that" says Hall.

The FAA will make it's recommendation to East Texas Regional Airport by September. County officials say they "will not" consider a physical reduction of the length of the runway, but would consider designating a portion of the north end "off-limits" for take-offs and landings. Bob Hallmark reporting.