Airport runways to see improvements over the next year

December 23, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — As the Western Nebraska Regional Airport continues to make strides in providing more service, several runway projects will soon be underway.

A seal coat project, which is expected to get underway in April, is currently awaiting the release of federal funds to get started. It is part of the airport improvement project, which will provide added safety along the runways.

“Safety is a big thing and keeping the stripes in good condition is necessary,” said Raul Aguallo, airport director. “It’s a big project, which will take most of the season to get done.”

The seal coat will be done on runways 12-30, all taxiways and three connectors. It will remove the current striping and lay down fresh paint striping and a seal coat.

“We have to get one every five years, which keeps us in compliance with the federal government,” he said.

The project will cost $3 million, of which, $1.4 million still needs to be raised. A small portion will come from the state and the rest will come from the discretionary pool of funds. Those funds are created from passenger fees of $4.30, which is charged to each passenger who flies in or out of the airport. The money is already included in the price of a ticket and is not an additional fee.

The airport has been fighting for decades with the federal government to keep the length of runways 5-23. They received final approval and the runway’s current length will remain as it is.

“We had the official, final approval to be kept as permanent,” he said. “It will not be addressed again for shortening and narrowing.”

Aguallo is now speaking with government officials about the rehab of the runway. Officials visited a few weeks ago to inspect the runway.

“They think the pavement is in fair condition, but we believe it’s deteriorating faster than they think,” he said. “By the time we get to the project next fall, it will be close to marginal.”

Aguallo said the runway is drying out and is confident he can convince officials the pavement is below required levels. The existing runways from World War II still exist.

“They agreed the concrete from 1944 is sound, but it varies from one foot to two foot,” he said.

The $9 million project is expected to go to bid in February or March.

The airport is also hoping to receive funding from an FAA $1 billion fund for non-primary airports to do construction they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. During the first round, the FAA only gave away $27 million and Aguallo has sent in the request, paperwork and reasons to be considered for $7 million in round two. The money would be used to build a parallel taxiway to runway 23.

Planes take off into the wind and 99 percent of the time, they use runway 30 as the primary approach. On the days there are crosswinds, they must take another approach. In order to do this, the plane needs to travel down the runway and turn around before taking off. If another plane came along, they would typically conduct a missed approach until the plane on the runway takes off. Aguallo doesn’t want to wait for a crash to happen before addressing the problem.

“We consider it a safety issue,” he said.

Aguallo said one of the advantages to being able to obtain these funds is that there will be no cost to the airport.

“There are no matching funds on this,” he said. “If approved, the government pays the whole amount.”

In order to bolster their request, Aguallo has been in contact with Sen. Deb Fischer’s office and Congressman Adrian Smith’s office asking for support.

“They indicated they are willing to do this,” he said. “We are optimistic we have a shot at it.”

Smith asked Aguallo for all the information Aguallo sent in so when he spoke to officials at the FAA, he would have all the necessary information on hand. Former Airport Director Darwin Skelton had tried for a long time to accomplish this task.

“Hopefully, this time will be our opportunity,” Aguallo said.

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