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Shifting a runway

Pilots in Driggs, Idaho, are petitioning to retain the first 2,000 feet of a Driggs/Reed Memorial Airport runway after the city announced plans to remove it as part of a current airport improvement project design.

Google Earth image.

The FAA-approved removal of a portion of Runway 4 is part of the ongoing runway shift project at the airport. The project is intended to increase safety by shifting the runway protection zone—an area dedicated at the end of a runway that enhances protection of people and property—to be exclusively on city-owned property. As currently approved, the runway shift plan would also resolve an existing intrusion in the runway object free area caused by a building owned by a local airport business. Airport officials believe the community will benefit from the shift by experiencing a reduction of aircraft-related noise over the downtown area.

The project would effectively “shift” Runway 4 to the northeast by removing the first 2,000 feet of the runway and constructing a new 2,000 feet of runway onto the north end of the runway—keeping total length at approximately 7,300 feet.

However, some pilots are concerned about the cost and margin of safety for aircraft should the project continue as proposed. During construction, the project would shorten the runway by 2,000 feet while the north end is adjusted, requiring a runway closure for at least a month while the south 2,000 feet of asphalt is removed. There are some suggestions that a less costly alternative would be to retain the 2,000 feet at the beginning of the runway and repurpose it as a “stopway”—an area beyond the takeoff runway.

The stopway concept would be used only for emergency overruns in cases where contaminants (such as ice or snow) may reduce aircraft braking effectiveness. Additionally, since the current plan includes some potentially negative impacts to the runway slope for pilots after the shift project is completed, the proposed stopway is envisioned to enhance safety in the case of an aborted takeoff or long landing.

In a petition circulated by Dr. Rich Sugden, a local pilot, in favor of leaving the first 2,000 feet of Runway 4 asphalt in place, petition organizers reemphasize they are in favor of the runway shift project and that retaining the stopway for emergency purposes would in no way slow or halt construction.

“We see no reason why the city of Driggs should not consider this proposal for a safer runway 'shift' project, and propose, and endorse, this small Stopway alteration to the FAA,” the petition states. “We hope this petition will indicate the support of pilots, especially those flying in and out of Driggs.”

According to Dr. Sugden, “Most important is this temporary stopway is proposed for one to two years to study if needed. It should cause no delay, and it’s simple, safer, costs less, and does not require the airport to close. This is a win-win!”

In response to the petition, Driggs Mayor August Christensen posted a letter to the City of Driggs website.

AOPA contacted Christensen for her perspective on this petition. “I am glad to hear we all agree safety comes first. The City of Driggs, in collaboration with the FAA and our community, is obligated to meet legal and safety requirements at our airport. The persistence of the existing asphalt, even temporarily, would severely impact, if not halt, the timeline and funding of the runway shift project, violating regulations such as unsupported runway length extension, non-compliance with buildings in the Runway Object Free Area, and encroachment of the Runway Protection Zone onto private property. Working closely with the FAA and our engineers instills confidence in progressing with the runway shift project.”

The design portion of the runway shift project is complete, and the city is preparing to begin taking construction bids for the project. The city of Driggs is the sponsor of the Driggs/Reed Memorial Airport and is the final decision authority on airport planning.

Lillian Geil

Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Airport

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