Redding Dragstrip may have to shrink track for new airport runway

REDDING — When a local group purchased IASCO Flight Training last month, keeping the commercial pilot school in Redding, plans to add a parallel runway at Redding Municipal Airport throttled up.  And building a third runway could mean changes for the Redding Dragstrip, which has operated a quarter-mile track east of the airport since 1953.

The drag strip leases the property from the city.

To make room for the runway, the southern end of the drag strip could be shaved, reducing the track to an eighth-mile.

Bob Lidell, Redding Dragstrip president and track manager, said Wednesday there has also been talk of building the runway between the existing main runway and his track, an option he prefers.

“But I don’t know enough about the airport or the space and the safety concerns,” Lidell said. “That is above my pay grade.”

Although Airports Manager Rod Dinger doesn’t rule anything out, he said the 2004 airport master plan identified the southern end of the drag strip as the best spot for a new runway.

“I don’t want to say we couldn’t pause for a moment and look and see, but we went through an extensive master plan process in 2004, where a lot of people put a lot of thought into it,” Dinger said, “so you don’t want to throw all those efforts out.”

The city isn’t opposed to taking another look and maybe revalidating its first choice, Dinger said, but officials also don’t want to give false hope that they could decide to plant the parallel runway between the drag strip and current runway.

“That location could have an adverse effect on” future growth of the airport, Dinger said.

What is certain is that work on a new runway, which could cost just under $5 million, is years out. Officials are still waiting for Federal Aviation Administration approval to start the environmental process.

“The planning process will take 18 months of environmental study, a full year of design and a full year of construction,” Dinger said. “So you’re talking a minimum of 3 ½ years once you start the clock, and the clock has not been started.”

IASCO flight trainers and their students would use the runway. The school uses the airport, but flight sessions can be interrupted by other airport traffic.

The school has about 100 students enrolled and has graduated 175 students. IASCO has contracts with three Chinese airlines.

Dinger said building a third runway has been a priority for years but talks cooled when IASCO was put up for sale and there was a chance the business could move out of Redding.

“We then paused because we didn’t want to expend energy … in pursuing a project we no longer needed,” Dinger said.

In May a group including former state Sen. Maurice Johannessen and past Pepsi Cola distributor John Fitzpatrick, paid $3 million for the 53-year-old firm, which has operated in Redding since 2009. The purchase ensures IASCO will stay in Redding.

Meanwhile, Lidell said business at the drag strip is good considering the state of the economy.