Tuesday, January 17, 2017

William H. Morse State Airport (KDDH) to close at least 90 days for runway project

BENNINGTON — Reconstructing the runway at the William H. Morse State Airport will require closing the facility for at least 90 days during 2018, officials planning the project said during an informational session last week in Bennington.

The contract for the project, which is expected to go out to bid in the spring and begin next year, will allow a 150-day period to complete the work, said Mary Kay Genthner, senior airport engineer with the project design firm, Passero Associates of Rochester, New York.

But she and Guy Rouelle, aeronautical program administrator with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said the state’s goal is to have the airport reopen as soon as possible. A similar runway project at the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport took 90 days, Rouelle said.

Genthner said it’s possible some of the related work might be done before or after the runway closure to shorten the shutdown. That includes creation of a taxiway alongside about half the length of the runway; grading and a 100-foot extension of the unpaved safety zone at the end of the 3,704-foot runway; and a new airport lighting system.

The project, estimated to cost about $5 million, is expected to be 90 percent funded through the Federal Aviation Administration, with the state paying 10 percent.

“I’m concerned about the 150-day time frame,” Thomas Ascher, a pilot who uses the airport, said during the meeting. “This would effectively shut this down for the summer.”

Ascher and Charles Suss, president of the nonprofit Bennington Airport Development Corp., which is overseeing the facility while looking for a private aviation firm to operate it, said he is afraid his group’s efforts to make the facility economically viable again will be set back if the runway is closed for an extended period.

Rouelle said one of the state’s overriding goals is to promote “the economic vibrancy of all our airports.” To foster that, he said, there will be an effort to move the project along as quickly as possible, and the AOT is planning concurrent upgrades that could boost the airport’s attractiveness to a private fixed-base operator. No such firm is currently managing the Bennington airport and providing services such as maintenance and fuel for aircraft.

Installation of a new fuel storage facility, with much larger fuel tanks, is planned to coincide with the runway project, he said, and there is a proposal to construct a new hangar at least 70 by 70 feet. Rouelle added that, after the Morrisville-Stowe airport was closed for 90 days for a runway reconstruction, a new fixed-base operator was brought in and “business quadrupled.”

Ascher asked whether changes could be made to the design to add a taxiway parallel to the entire runway, which could then be used for landings and takeoffs during the runway reconstruction.

Genthner said that, while a full-length taxiway is a long-range goal for the state, building it now would at least double the cost of the project, partly because of environmental permit issues that would arise. She and Rouelle said it also would be difficult to have planes landing and taking off near the construction area, and Rouelle said it is unlikely the FAA would approve that arrangement.

He said the state would, however, try to assist aircraft owners in making arrangements to use the Harriman and West Airport in North Adams, Mass., or other airports in the region, during the shutdown period.

Genthner said the runway was built in 1982 and both it and its lighting system are near the end of their lifespans. She said the reconstruction will extend down to the base of the runway, about 3 feet deep, and will include a new subsurface drainage system.

The lighting system will include all new wiring and a control unit set outside the airport office building. Lighting is typically activated by pilots from their aircraft, Rouelle said, and turns off automatically after about 15 minutes.

The runway project was designed primarily to improve safety and replace a runway surface that is overdue for reconstruction. If the state had wanted to add other features at this time, Rouelle said, the FAA would likely put the project on a different funding schedule, delaying the work. Ultimately, he said, the intent is to extend the taxiway the entire length of the runway.

The 35-foot-wide strip is designed to let landing aircraft immediately turn off the 75-foot-wide runway. It also gives pilots preparing for takeoff a space that is off the runway, keeping that open for other craft.

Another future project might include paving of the grass-covered safety zones at the ends of the runway, which total 300 feet, adding some extra runway room for planes taking off but not available for landings, he said. There are no current plans to extend the runway, Rouelle said, and it will continue to accommodate the same size aircraft.

Those include smaller private craft and turboprops up to the size of a Beechcraft King Air, along with some of the smaller corporate jets, such as the Cessna Citation.

Any consideration by the FAA of extending the runway, which proved controversial when proposed several years ago, probably would not advance without significant economic development requiring access by larger aircraft, Rouelle said.

Source:   https://vtdigger.org

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