Pilots will have an easier and safer time landing at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport now that improvements have finished on the airport’s 7,500-foot-long runway.
The airport closed its longer commercial runway in November to start construction on its landing point. The changes will allow pilots to drop closer to the ground before deciding if they can land a plane during bad weather or limited visibility.
In the past, pilots would have to determine from about 250 feet up whether they could land on the Baton Rouge runway amid possibly bad or stormy conditions. If pilots could not see well enough, they would have to land at another nearby airport such as Lafayette or New Orleans and figure out how to transport passengers back to Baton Rouge, Assistant Director of Aviation Ralph Hennessy said.
With the improvements, pilots can wait until they are 100 feet from the runway until making the call about whether to land. The runway has additional lighting and fewer obstructions in the way of landing, as well.
“It offers the carriers more flexibility during inclement weather,” Hennessy said. “It increases their comfort level.”
The improved runway brings some economic benefits along with additional safety, according to Hennessy. If a pilot cannot land at his intended destination and has to land at another airport, the airline has to spend more money to transport the passengers back, he said. While that doesn’t happen often, it occurs from time to time during winter months when conditions are foggy and it’s hard to see, Hennessy said.
Though the improvements entirely change the instrument landing system for pilots, the average passenger probably will not notice many changes. The most palpable could be smoother landings because pilots will not have to jam on their brakes the instant they touch down now that they will have a longer stretch of runway ahead of them. Before the changes, the pilots had to land in a different spot on the runway, which gave them less room to coast.
Hennessy said the change also helps prevent wear and tear on a plane’s brakes and tires.
Though construction lasted about seven months, the project to upgrade the runway has been in the works for more than a decade.
In 2001, airport officials started trying to secure money for the project. They received a series of grants from the Federal Aviation Administration over the next three years that allowed them to start making progress until funding halted.
The state’s aviation department then stepped in and pulled money from the Aviation Trust Fund to help the project along. The trust fund’s money comes from a tax on aviation fuel.
The upgrades, including planning and design, cost upward of $8 million. The FAA paid around $3.5 million for the landing point’s relocation, and the state paid around $4.6 million for equipment and the new instrument landing system’s design.
Hennessy said the airport did not spend any of its own money on the upgrades.
During the time that funding was being secured, other changes were made at the airport that gave pilots a clearer path to the runway.
Hennessy said they tore down an old trucking facility near one end of the runway, lowered some lights on the Interstate and re-routed Blount and Plank roads.
The Baton Rouge Airport now has both of its main runways back open for commercial flights.
Having only one of them open earlier this year caused more problems than airport officials expected.
In February, an electrical short in the working runway caused flight cancellations for 500 to 600 passengers. Then in March, a small corporate jet rolled into the mud next to the runway and forced about 200 passengers flying into Baton Rouge to have their flights diverted to Lafayette or New Orleans.
Airport spokesman Jim Caldwell called it “just bad luck” at the time, noting that both runways cannot always be open indefinitely.
Hennessy said more changes will be outlined for the airport’s future when they begin a new master plan over the next few months.