Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Barnes Regional Airport runway reconstruction could cause F-15 fighter jets to be temporarily transferred to Westover Air Force Base

WESTFIELD - Four agencies are moving forward with plans to reconstruct the runways at Barnes Regional Airport, but discussions are preliminary.

“The runway has a life span of 20 years and we are approaching 30 years,” said Air National Guard 104th Fighter Wing Executive Officer Maj. Matthew T. Mutti.

He said the runways continue to be safe and usable but all officials know the work does have to be done eventually.

The project, which is estimated to cost at least $30 million, must be approved and funded by the Air National Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, the city of Westfield and the state. It is very early in the planning process, he said.

If the runway is resurfaced, it will call for Fighter Wing’s F-15 Eagle fighter jets to be moved to another location while work is being done. Base officials are having discussions with those at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and other airports in the northeast to find a temporary home for the planes, Mutti said.

“We will not stop our alert commitment. There are many alternatives,” he said.

The preliminary plan would call for the larger of the two runways, which measures about 9,000 feet and used by the 104th Fighter Wing, to be resurfaced first. The civilian operation can continue uninterrupted because the planes use the shorter runway at the airport during construction. Once the work on the longer runway is completed, civilian planes can use that runway while the shorter runway can be resurfaced, Mutti said.

The F-15 jets must take off and land on a longer runway so they will need an alternative location, he said.

Westover Chief of Public Affairs Lt. Col. James G. Bishop said the base should be able to accommodate the fighter jets during construction. Last summer some were parked at Westover when it was needed.

“We are talking with them about the possibility” he said.

Since details of the construction project are so preliminary, it is not known when it may happen or how long it would take, Mutti said.

In December, Barnes officials announced they were canceling plans for a summer 2014 international air show at the base because of a potential multi-million dollar runway reconstruction project. 


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