Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Fremont Municipal Airport (KFET) advisory committee talks about grass runway possibility

An advisory committee talked about the possibility of having a grass runway when they met Friday morning at Fremont Municipal Airport.

Members of the airport advisory committee also talked about items – including a maintenance hangar and updated Airport Layout Plan (ALP) – which they’d like to see regularly listed as discussion items on the monthly agenda.

In January, board members talked about reconstruction of portions of the runway and a connecting taxiway.

Concrete in these portions has been deteriorating — from within — due to an adverse chemical reaction. This deterioration is occurring at multiple sites in Nebraska and other states.

Board members and Jim Kjeldgaard, president of Fremont Aviation which operates the airport, have estimated it could take nine months for concrete removal and replacement.

Not using the runway for this amount of time would seriously impact Fremont Aviation along with other businesses that use the airport, Kjeldgaard said, and board members discussed possible alternatives.

“The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is apparently approving a number of grass runways,” said Bill Dugan, board member. “We have plenty of space for a north-south grass runway, which would be a very little expense I would think.”

A new FAA advisory acknowledges it will allow turf operations within Runway Safety Areas.

Dugan asked Dave Goedeken, director of public works for the City of Fremont, if he could look into this possibility for the local airport.

Goedeken said he could speak to Anna Lannin, engineering division manager of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics.

Members added that though larger aircraft couldn’t use the grass runway, smaller ones could. At this time, the grass runway is open at Wahoo Airport and its paved one is closed for reconstruction.

During past meetings, the committee discussed whether the former Runway 1-19 could be used when the main runway is shut down due to reconstruction or rehabilitation.

Goedeken previously said Lannin wasn’t very hopeful about that alternative because the FAA had decommissioned that runway.

At Friday’s meeting, board member Jeff Peterson wondered if the runway actually was decommissioned.

Peterson said he researched online what it would take to decommission a runway – and found an extensive list.

“It was like a three-page checklist,” Peterson said. “There’s a lot of stuff.”

Peterson said, however, if the FAA actually did decommission Runway 1-19 and is approving grass runways, he believes the latter is an excellent option.

Eric Johnson, board member, added that they’d need to make sure the grass runway meets FAA standards for safety and wouldn’t interfere with any future pavement.

Like members at previous meetings, Peterson expressed concern about the airport being closed during runway work.

“If I’ve learned anything the last two years, you don’t shut business down,” Peterson said. “I know it’s hard. We want to try and do what we have to do, but I think shutting a business down is a disaster – even if it’s for three months.”

In talking about runways, Alison Adams, board member, asked if work on the ALP was moved forward.

By definition, this plan shows existing facilities and intended development of an airport and Johnson previously has said the FAA looks at an ALP like a bible for the airport.

Goedeken said work on the ALP has been moved ahead.

Initially, ALP work was suggested for 2026 in the Airport’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

The board voted in January to recommend moving that work to 2024 when presenting the airport’s CIP to the Fremont City Council.

As members discussed maintenance items – such as hangar repair and replacement of lights—interim Fremont City Administrator Jody Sanders posed a question.

Instead of reporting a list of repairs at a meeting, Sanders wondered about members reporting them on an as-needed basis.

That way, meeting discussion could focus on what had been accomplished.

Johnson said an Iowa airport has maintenance item discussion on its agendas with a checklist of major projects.

Tom Randall, board vice chairman, wondered if members could submit repair requests online and liked the idea of a written checklist with follow-up.

Dugan wondered about reporting repair requests to Fremont Aviation personnel. Goedeken said the personnel then could contact him.

Randall also advocated for putting a proposed maintenance hangar on each monthly agenda.

“It seems like to me if we’re going to get something done on the maintenance hangar, it’s going to have to be a grassroots effort on our part and, to me, the viability of the airport depends on getting a maintenance hangar,” Randall said.

The maintenance hangar would house incoming planes and serve as a place where aircraft are inspected and repaired. The current maintenance hangar is too small to house aircraft, a concern for people who fly here.

Business owners and other guests don’t want their planes outdoors when hail or other storms occur.

That’s especially true of multi-million dollar corporate jets that bring people to Fremont on business or to look at the city as a company’s future site.

The board repeatedly has talked about a shortage of smaller hangars at the airport.

Dugan asked if there is space to build more hangars.

Goedeken said there is space and he will ask Lannin how the airport could expand based on its current ALP.

Kjeldgaard asked about possible grants.

Unless funds could be provided through recent legislation that will provide money for airport-related projects, there are loans, Goedeken said. But he cited a past instance when the city, under a former administrator, came in upside down on a payback.

Kjeldgaard contended that the airport is part of Fremont and pilot Ken Cox robustly expressed his thoughts in regard to getting funding for projects.

“The airport actually brings in money and it’s a very small percentage that screams about things out here, where you’ve got 90 percent of the city that will holler if a park needs mowed—or this or that—that doesn’t actually make any money. This is the red-headed stepchild of the city,” Cox said.

In other business, Goedeken said some work still needs to be done on the new airport terminal. Operations will continue in the existing terminal until such time as permanent occupancy can take place in the new one.

Goedeken said furnishings have been ordered.

“As we get things, we will move in,” Goedeken said. “We’ve got a beautiful building.”

Members met at the new building on Friday.

Dugan asked about plans for the existing terminal. Peterson recommended determining what the building is worth rent wise and receiving income from it.

The Fremont Airport Advisory Committee meets at 8:15 a.m. the third Friday of each month. Meetings are open to the public.

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