Thursday, June 19, 2014

Western Nebraska Regional Airport (KBFF) reviews runway improvement, airline bids

Western Nebraska Regional Airport makes plans for runway improvements, but airline services are still up in the air.

During the WNRA board meeting on Wednesday, M.C. Shaff and Associates of Scottsbluff representative Jeff Wolfe reviewed with board members the four bids that were offered to add new Sealcoat to the runways and taxiways. There were four bids on the project, but the winning bid came in at $1,470,362 through Hi-Lite Air Field Services LLC of Adams Center, New York. This bid was $400,000 below the original cost estimate.

“We have worked with Hi-Lite on several projects,” Wolfe said. “Hi-Lite has never worked on this particular airport, but they have worked on Alliance and several other airports in this region and is a very good company.”

In addition to the bid, an epoxy paint will also be added on a no taxiway island at an additional cost of $17,700. The epoxy paint will be added to be compliant with an FAA regulation change that was established a few years ago.

This regulation stated that airports could no longer have a taxiway that accessed directly to a runway with access directly to an apron area. Wolfe said the FAA, in their safety studies of airport accidents, found that airports needed some kind of break point or no taxiway island.

The painted area will be a 160-foot-long, by 45-foot-wide painted island between taxiway B and E.

“What we’re going to do is paint an oval island out there with 18-inch reflectors around it so that pilots will basically have to go around that to go from the taxiway to the apron,” Wolfe said.

There was some concern about the durability and overall longevity if a water-based paint was used. Wolfe said he tried to get thermal plastic markings for the apron, which is melted into the pavement, but the FAA told Wolfe that the island was not eligible for thermal plastics. In lieu of water-based paint, M.C. Shaff will use the epoxy paint since it is more durable and approved by the FAA.

“This project isn’t our choice, it isn’t the airport’s choice, but it’s one of those rules that comes about and if you want to use federal funding you have to follow the rules. That is why it’s going in,” he said.

The board approved the bid of the Airport Improvement Project of Seal Coat Runways and Taxiways in the total amount of $1,488,062 to Hi-Lite Air Field Services LLC.

Results for the bids of Essential Air Service at the airport also came in last month with Great Lakes Airlines being the only contender. The airline gave two separate bids for its services. One is set as three round trip flights a day on the 19 passenger seat flights for a bid subsidy requirement of $1.76 million. The second bid was three flights a day with nine seat planes for a bid of $2.44 million.

WNRA Director Darwin Skelton said GLA has 34 airplanes in their fleet and only 18 pilots who meet the required flight hour requirements to fly them. Of those 18 planes, 16 are nine passenger and two are 19 passenger planes.

“The 19 passenger bid probably isn’t going to happen unless Congress changes what they did with the Airline Transport Pilot requirements,” he said.

Skelton added the law states that one single pilot can fly a nine-seat airplane, four flights a week, but the law needs to change to allow pilots to fly 19-seat planes, 27 flights a week.

This change would revert the airport to acquire the first bid, but if that doesn’t happen the second bid would be put into place.

If the airport were to accept the second bid, it would negatively affect boarding numbers, making the airport unable to reach the 10,000 boarding number to qualify for its annual $1 million in federal funds.

“Of course it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if we have three flights a day with nine passengers, there is no way that we will ever make 10,000 boardings,” WNRA Chairman Don Overman said.

Overman added that the board has a lot of missionary work to do, along with putting together a coalition of cities in Nebraska and other airports across the country to get Congress to understand the seriousness of EAS in rural America.

“It’s a tough situation for all of us in Nebraska,” he said. “We need a lot of help from the elected officials of this country and support by plenty of the them going to the FAA to get some changes made. Otherwise we’re going to have three flights a day with nine passengers.”


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