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A new runway is back on PBIA's flight plan, to the chagrin of locals like Donald Trump

Airiel view of an airport runway.
Screenshot from 2022 FAA “From the Flight Deck” informational video
Stet News
View from the air of the primary runway at Palm Beach International Airport with the diagonal crosswind runway, which would be shortened. The parallel runway, not pictured, is immediately south of the primary.

Laura Beebe, Palm Beach County director of airports, avoided the dreaded P-word last week when she addressed county commissioners about expansion at Palm Beach International Airport.

“To ensure that PBI does not exceed its airfield capacity we’re recommending that we start the preliminary planning needed to implement the extension of an additional aviation runway,” she said. 

Missing from her wording — but not the proposal — is the P-word: “parallel” as in “parallel runways.”

It’s a word certain to provoke anxiety among homeowners east and west of the airport in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach as well as the most famous PBIA critic of all, former President Donald Trump.

Commissioners gave the go-ahead April 16 to embark on a 10- to 12-year effort to extend the parallel runway at PBIA to 8,000 feet from 3,214.

Runway 10R-28L now is too short for commercial jets. It is solely used by small aircraft.
In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration shelvedthe full-fledged parallel runway, which neighbors feared would mean more aircraft flying more often over their homes. It also raised concerns from Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago Club is almost due east of the parallel runways.

What killed it? A huge falloff in demand during and after the 2008 Great Recession.

Then-Airports Director Bruce Pelly warned that parallel runways eventually would be needed.

"Regardless of the current economic situation, we are certain that a serviceable parallel commercial service runway will be needed at some point in the future at PBIA," Pelly wrote to the FAA in 2010

Pelly has since retired but serves as chairman of PBIA’s Aviation and Airports Advisory Board, which recommended moving forward.

It might get through federal studies quicker than a 10,000-foot runway recommended in the airport’s 2018 master plan, Beebe said. A previous FAA study found no significant impacts with the 8,000-foot runway.

“We think moving forward with that project, because the FAA has already seen it, already made some determinations about its impacts, that it would help to move that project forward a little bit more quickly,” she said.

Total aircraft operations, which include commercial airliners and private jets, have been rising rapidly since the pandemic and are expected to reach the airport’s maximum of 220,000 by 2028 to 2032, Beebe said.

Aircraft operations now are at 173,000. A runway expansion at North County Airport could help.

While parallel runways would not allow simultaneous arrivals and departures (they are too close together) they would allow for staggered departures, increasing airport capacity, said Gary Sypek, senior deputy director of airports.

Still, it will be a long haul.

The first step is reaching out to the citizens committee that advises the airport on noise issues. A consultant may be hired to oversee “community engagement.”

It will be at least four years before the project reaches the design stage, Beebe said.

The proposal goes before the Citizens Committee on Airport Noise at 9:30 am May 23 at Building 846 at the airport. The meeting is open to the public.

This story was originally published by Stet News, a WLRN News partner.

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