By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

The hope that a new airport terminal will rise at Jack McNamara Field in Crescent City is alive and well in the hearts and minds of Del Norte County officials.

Just when that new terminal will be constructed, however, depends on often contradictory and confusing directives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA is a large bureaucracy and it has a lot of branches, said Ernie Perry, director of the countys community development department. Sometimes, as in this case, you have one branch saying something different than another branch.

On one hand, Perry said, one branch of the FAA wants Crescent City to build the new terminal. At the same time, another department is asking for improvements at the existing facility. The catch? If the old terminal is improved, it will delay county plans for a new terminal, even though the county has $1 million issued by the FAA to get the new terminal project on track.

Perry said about $200,000 of that $1 million will now be siphoned off to temporarily fix the existing terminal.

Driving the need for immediate improvements are FAA concerns about security, but officials have also long viewed the current terminal as too small for current traffic and completely inadequate for the increased flights that are forecast.

The expansion of the airport is also in the works, as the runway will be strengthened and lengthened to accommodate larger aircraft. This will create additional problems as more passengers pass through the airport in the future.

Currently, only planes with fewer than 30 seats are allowed to land at Crescent City, Perry said. Bigger planes will be required soon to serve the areas needs.

The 30-seaters are the magic demarcation line, Perry said. Above that you step into a new set of rules. McClure said that 50-seat planes are on the horizon.

Stepping up to that new threshold, however, will require a host of new support services, Perry said.

As we go to the larger planes, which is good from the public standpoint, we will need to have an airport manager on site, said Perry. Well also need a fire vehicle on site, from 15 minutes before a flight takes off to 15 minutes afterward. This is a FAA requirement when dealing with planes that have more than 30 seats.

But with all the problems the FAA presents, it is also a benefactor in ways that offset the difficulties.

The FAA considers us as an essential airport so we have essential services, said McClure. That rating is extremely important to us.

The rating means funding from the FAA for some projects is guaranteed, mainly on the grounds that Crescent City is isolated in ways that can make air traffic a necessity. The alternative is the airport would have to compete for grants based on air traffic and passengers.

But money is not particularly a problem for the agency, according to McClure.

In the last three years, the FAA has had a real infusion of dollars, McClure said. I think they are sometimes stymied as to what to do with it all.

Installing security fencing and relocating the airport beacon to the water tower are projects that are currently under way with FAA assistance. McClure said a new water line will also be installed that will be capable of serving the entire area.

Within the big picture of things, the airport is doing quite well, McClure said. If we get everything up to standard, we are in pretty good shape, compared to other communities our size.