The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is in the business of setting the conditions for other businesses to succeed. This includes supporting the development of infrastructure which facilitates efficient business. Transportation is a critical component of effective business operations and commerce. Most discussions of transportation focus on roads and rail. Both are absolutely imperative to the business community, but we must not forget the importance of air service to this region.
Norfolk International Airport has served the Hampton Roads region for nearly eight decades. The value that it has returned to the community can be measured by the connectivity that it provides to the world. From ORF, we are literally one stop from almost every major city in the world. It serves as the conduit through which airlines and their customers conduct business. In providing this service, the airport supports more than 10,000 jobs and produces more than $1 billion in economic output for the region.
Last year, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce formed an Air Service Task Force to assess and subsequently recommend improvements to air service in our region. What we found was that ORF is a well-managed airport which provides excellent air service, especially when compared to other regions our size. But the airport needs our help to improve its existing capability. With federal and state support, ORF follows a master plan process that optimizes the airport footprint to return the highest and best use of the land.
The Norfolk Airport Authority, a subdivision of the commonwealth of Virginia and an independent agency of the city of Norfolk, is tasked with managing, developing and maintaining the airport on a daily basis. Its charge is to offer a clean, well-kept aviation terminal complex that provides a comfortable travel environment with desired passenger facilities and amenities. The authority does this without burdening local taxpayers. The costs to operate the airport are funded by revenues derived from those who travel through the facility.
Even more critical than these “experience” features, however, is the responsibility to be mission-ready. The airport is open 24 hours daily, 365 days a year. Significant capital and human investment are marshaled to have the appropriate equipment, planning, training and manpower available to keep the airport open no matter what weather conditions are being faced. Airlines may choose to cancel all operations, but ORF exerts every effort to stay open in the event of emergency diversions, medical flights or even the needs of our neighboring military facilities.
The Airport Authority has been working for years with the FAA to gain approval and funding for a plan to relocate the secondary runway. This would include the construction of another secondary runway 6,500 feet in length parallel to the main runway. This plan has several advantages.
First, it would meet FAA design standards. It is completely within the airport environs requiring no land acquisition. The length can accommodate commercial aircraft so it could be used when the main runway has to be shut down for an airfield incident or periodic maintenance. It would be used to segregate commercial and general aviation flights, which increases safety. The realignment of the relocated secondary runway will alleviate the current secondary runway’s airspace conflicts with NAS Oceana and Chambers Field at the Norfolk Naval Station. The plan also would reposition noise contours to lessen the impact on nearby neighborhoods. Additionally, land gained from the demolition of the current secondary runway can be repurposed for other aviation needs. After several public sessions where the Airport Authority received civic feedback, this plan has the support of the citizens, the business community, neighborhoods, municipalities, the military and our political leaders.
Unfortunately, at the completion of the first of a two-phase Environmental Impact Study, the FAA determined that the fundamental purpose and need is not supported by the current or anticipated needs of the airport, and the EIS process was terminated.
However, we believe a relocated secondary runway is needed to replace the runway that has become obsolete due to FAA design standards. The relocation plan will enhance safety, improve operational flexibility and minimize impacts on neighborhood noise and military airspace conflicts.
We are a major military, maritime and tourism region with a population of 1.7 million residents. In fact, we are among the highest-populated regions in the state. Without this relocated secondary runway at ORF, it will be a one-runway airport. We deserve better. It is our position that the FAA’s decision is misdirected, hasty and premature. We believe that the second phase of the EIS needs to be fully completed and that the determination be made to proceed to planning, design and construction of the relocated runway to better serve the Hampton Roads community.