Saturday, September 07, 2013

Castle Airport (KMER) in line for taxiway fix: Merced County gets $660K for improvements pending approval

Castle Airport has been awarded close to $660,000 in federal funding to build a new taxiway, pending approval from the Board of Supervisors later this month.

If approved by supervisors Sept. 17, the county would match 10 percent of the total project cost, about $40,198.

The county would pay for the labor, staffing and administrative costs.

Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development, said the new taxiway will alleviate a safety concern identified by the Federal Aviation Administration several years ago.

"What this new taxiway will do is allow the smaller aircraft to exit the runway more quickly so the larger aircraft can land safely as well," Hendrickson said.

Castle Airport is being used for both small and large aircraft, Hendrickson said. The airport is on target to reach 150,000 flight take-off and landings by end of the year.

Some have wondered if the grant money could be better spent in other areas of Castle Airport. Two people raised that question with Merced County District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis.

But Davis said the FAA grant was specifically intended for constructing a new taxiway to improve airport safety. "It's one of the things we needed to do out there, and it's exciting," Davis said.

Although the new taxiway will be used mostly by small aircraft, it also will benefit the large ones, said Rich Hitt, Castle Airport's air traffic manager.

"Larger aircraft want to be able to get in without having to hold and wait for smaller aircraft to land," Hitt said. "They're burning fuel waiting."

The new taxiway becomes more critical with the growth of the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics in Atwater, Hitt noted.

Bob Deklinski, director of airport development for Sierra Academy of Aeronautics, said the school has 450 to 550 operations a day. The academy's current roster is 180 students and 50 flight instructors, Deklinski said.

"When we first heard about the grant, it was a very nice surprise that this was coming because we put several hundred operations a day on the runway here," Deklinski said.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, announced the grant in a news release earlier this week.

Costa said modernizing Castle Airport's facilities will help the valley continue growing. "As more families and businesses than ever depend on our local airports, investments such as this come at a critical time," Costa said in the release.

Merced County submits a list of airport projects to the FAA every year, according to Hendrickson. The new taxiway has been on the list since 2006.

The project will require a $32,889 grant from the California Department of Transportation's aeronautics division. The total cost of the project is $730,870.

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