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New GA Airport Proposed for Oak Ridge, TN

June 15, 2011

A former Manhattan Project uranium-enrichment complex in Oak Ridge, TN, could get a new lease on life as a general aviation (GA) airport.

The Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee (CROET), the body that's redeveloping the site known as "K-25," a private-sector business park, is in the third phase of a feasibility study with the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority (MKAA) to hammer out development plans. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2017, although MKAA hopes to accelerate that timetable.

The airport would improve general aviation access in the region as well as give Oak Ridge an economic boost, said Harry Houckes, NBAA's regional representative for the Southeast. "It would make Oak Ridge an intermodal transportation hub, with air, road and rail access, and it would improve the usability of that industrial site," he said.

Taking advantage of area industrial parks is a major factor in the ongoing study, said Bill Marrison, president of MKAA. "The airport's potential to leverage adjacent industrial parks will be a paramount factor in our decisions," he said. "The K-25 site would be an invaluable asset to the two adjacent industrial parks and to the region's aviation community. The site will offer much-needed hangar space for business aircraft, and take advantage of excellent access to the interstate highway system."

Marrison notes that the area's general aviation traffic currently flies into McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), southwest of Knoxville, or Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (DKX), both about 30 miles from Oak Ridge, but these facilities will soon reach capacity for general aviation service.

"The proposed Oak Ridge project will serve as a reliever airport for [business] aircraft," he said.

The plans initially call for a 5,000-foot runway, which Marrison said fits projected business and individual use estimates, although a future expansion to 6,000 feet is part of the proposal. A 5,000-foot runway would still be 1,000 feet longer than the Downtown Knoxville airport's general aviation runway.

A general aviation airport has been discussed and studied at various Oak Ridge locations since the 1980s. In 2009, CROET asked MKAA to evaluate the feasibility of its construction. After that, the Department of Energy (DOE) identified three potential sites, which were evaluated for factors including airspace, access to industrial parks and major roads, power lines and existing buildings, environmental impact and cost. Next, a justification study being carried out by the LPA Group on behalf of MKAA will refine the current site concept, verify user support, forecast aviation activity and analyze the service area.

CROET has been working with the DOE to redevelop K-25 since the mid-90s, about 10 years after the uranium enrichment facilities were shut down, said President and CEO Lawrence Young. He envisions the general aviation airport as the anchor that will attract business activity to Heritage Center Industrial Park, as K-25 is now known.

"It's a large site, and the general aviation airport will be a phenomenal asset for us as we develop the business park around the airport, having that as the jewel in the middle of the crown," he said.

For more information, contact NBAA's Southeast Regional Representative Harry Houckes at hhouckes@nbaa.org.