Airport officials will begin a two-year study of the Ronan airport after the Federal Aviation Administration funded a grant for the work.
The $202,642 Aeronautical Survey and Airport Masterplan Update grant will be used to define whether the airport is in demand enough to expand it for use of larger firefighting aircraft that could potentially save lives.
Lake County Joint Airport Board Chairman Rick Newman said that nothing will change in the Ronan area surrounding the airport.
“No shovels will go into the ground in the next two years,” he said.
The study is to determine if a need exists for bigger planes like those needed to fight wildland fires.
Lake County is home to three airports, Newman said. Two of those airports are in areas that cannot handle larger aircraft. The St. Ignatius airport is not an FAA airport, he said. Polson is located in an area too close to a river, the lake, Tribal lands and other areas that inhibit expansion.
Though Ronan is surrounded by its own set of special locations, designations and issues, it is an FAA site. Airport board leaders want to know if it is a location that is sought after, or capable of handling larger planes.
“We are not going to turn that into an international airport,” Newman said. “We have Missoula and Kalispell for that. If a year goes by and nothing is going on, if no pilots make requests, then we are not going to rebuild the runway.”
Through the next two years, airport professionals will conduct things like a wind study to determine the prevailing wind direction, a traffic study to see how much activity the location receives, a farming study to see if expansion would impact area farmers, all things the FAA requires before allowing any kind of airport expansion.
The FAA funds 90 percent of all member airports’ needs, Newman said. Additional individual airport funding is provided through rent of hangars and other outside sources.
Other Montana cities that received FAA funding include Billings, Broadus, Circle, Forsyth, Hardin, Livingston, Malta, Shelby and Wolf Point.
“Community airports across Montana provide critical transportation services to Montana’s rural communities,” Senator Steve Daines said in a press release announcing grant recipients. “These grants will ensure that Montana’s smaller airports are able to meet rising ridership demands, ensure safe and reliable service for their passengers and meet the long-term economic needs of the communities they serve.”