Medical jets to fly over Island

While an air ambulance landing at Renton Airport may have awakened some South end residents in the middle of the night last week, airport officials stated summer repairs being done at Boeing Field will not cause the same amount of air traffic as last summer.

Last Monday, nightly closures of the main runway at Boeing Field began for scheduled summer maintenance. As a result, an air ambulance carrying a patient landed at Renton Airport around 1 a.m. July 10. The day before, the city of Mercer Island issued a noise warning to residents about the flight.

According to communications coordinator Joy Bueling, the city received just one noise complaint about noise from the flight.

Airlift NW, a local air ambulance service, has a twin turbine engine powered Learjet based in Seattle and often uses Renton Airport when Boeing Field is closed or unavailable. The jet is nearly 50 feet in length, has a cruising speed of 500 mph and a range of 1,500 miles. Airlift NW also uses a turbo prop-powered aircraft based in Wenatchee, which is capable of landing on shorter runways. Airlift typically lands at Boeing Field and transports patients to Seattle hospitals.

Renton Airport manager Ryan Zulauf said other emergency aircraft transporting human organs may be diverted from Boeing Field to Renton during the closures.

Boeing Field released an advisory for the repair work, which prompted Renton Airport officials to notify others. In an e-mail sent to Renton Airport Advisory Committee, airport secretary Carolyn Currie wrote, “We wanted you to know that Renton Airport may experience some late night arrivals and departures of aircraft, including air ambulance flights, due to temporary night time closures of the long runway at King County International, Boeing Field.”

The advisory from Boeing Field states nightly closures will continue next week, July 16 to July 19, and again next month, Aug. 13 through Aug. 6 and Aug. 20 through Aug. 23. The closures will be from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. during those times. Boeing Field will remain open during all other normally scheduled hours. The second, smaller runway will remain open.

Airport operations employee Chris Hull said the closures won’t divert all air traffic to Renton because crews will be able to leave the runway intermediately for scheduled flights. Pilots will be able to obtain permission to land or take-off with a 30 minute notice, he said.

“The runway closures allow workers to clear the runway for arrivals, preventing diversions to other airports,” Hull said.

The maintenance work includes paving around the lights along the runway’s edge and signs. Crews will also restore the fill around the runway edges and taxiways, along with other routine maintenance.

Last August, the main runway at Boeing Field was closed for several weeks to repair damages from the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. The diversions last year brought several corporate jets over the Island as they approached the Renton Airport. The increase in air traffic and low flying jets over the Island also raised concerns of the proposed expansion of the Renton Airport.

The City Council recently signed an agreement with Renton officials to work together regarding the proposed upgrades at the airport. The Council is expected to discuss entering another agreement with Renton in September. That agreement will contribute up to $50,000 toward the costs of a noise study regarding the potential changes at Renton Airport.

Zulauf said he was unsure if the construction this summer would affect the Island as much as last year’s closure. He referred questions to offcials at Boeing Field.

“As far as impacts, I’m not sure if it will be as bad as last summer or a non-event,” Zulauf said. “We might have some light night arrivals and departures. I know we had a couple already that have been related to the air ambulance.”

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