FAA reiterates that funding is not tied to a specific Hilton Head runway length

The Federal Aviation Administration has not insisted that the runway at Hilton Head Island Airport be extended to 5,400 feet in order to receive federal funding, according to an e-mail from an FAA official.

The statement, along with a previous comment from an FAA official, contradicts comments by mayoral candidate Tom Crews, who has said publicly the FAA won't pay to lengthen the runway unless it is extended to 5,400 feet.

The Town of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County councils voted in July to ask consultants to analyze the impact of extending the airport's runway to three lengths -- 4,600 feet, 5,000 feet and 5,400 feet. Members of town and county councils have said shorter extensions would allow the island to retain commercial service at a lower cost and with less disruption to the north end of the airport.

That position doesn't appear to be at odds with the FAA.

"If Hilton Head opts for a length less than 5,400 feet, FAA's support will not diminish," said Scott Seritt, manager of the FAA's Atlanta Airports District Office, in an e-mail recently obtained by The Island Packet that was sent Aug. 24 to Hilton Head resident Leo Brennan.

Crews has pointed to a letter in February to county administrator Gary Kubic, in which Seritt states the FAA supports a consultant's conclusion for a proposed runway length of 5,400 feet to be lengthened over several years.

Seritt wrote in the August e-mail that FAA design guidelines are "used to calculate what length a runway should be, not what they have to be. Various constraints, such as environmental or zoning, may prevent an airport from extending a runway to a proposed length. So there could be any given number of possible runway lengths given an airport's unique set of circumstances."

Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman, also said last month that the FAA was not locked into a 5,400-foot requirement.

On Monday, Crews amended his prior statements.

"We know the FAA reviewed and supported a two-phased extension of 5,400 feet," he said. "What we don't know ... is whether the (shorter) options meet FAA (requirements). ... Until the FAA looks at an engineered study, we won't know if they will or will not approve" of a runway length less than 5,400 feet.

Town and county councils will review a final recommendation of the airport master plan during a joint meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 27 at Hilton Head Island High School, 70 Wilborn Road.