Airport Board holds off on runway project, will address the resurfacing in the future

February 28, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — The Western Nebraska Airport Authority Board has fought for many years with the federal government to keep one of its runways, 5-23, in place and maintained. The runway is a cross wind runway and is used at least 500 times a year by large aircraft as an alternative when cross winds prevent landing on the main runway, airport officials say.

After finally being notified by the FAA that the runway was necessary to airport operations, plans were made to begin an $8 million project to resurface the runway. The cost is now causing the FAA to balk at such a move even though a similar project was completed within the last three years in Alliance.

As part of the capital improvement project at the airport, engineering firm MC Schaff looked at what would be necessary to resurface the runway. Over the past year, MC Schaff took core samples, performed smoothness testing and put together a lengthy report about the runway, which was part of the original air base in Scottsbluff. The runway has a base of eight inches of concrete. In the late 1970s, a cap of standard asphalt was placed on top of the concrete. Another surface was placed on top of the asphalt cap to help with friction and to drain water to the sides of the run way.

“The concrete is in good stable condition,” said Jeff Wolf, with MC Schaff. “It’s a solid (concrete) surface from the war (WWII) but the problem is the asphalt is from the 1980s.”

The oil from the asphalt is starting to become brittle. The MC Schaff report to the airport states that the original concrete remains while all the asphalt should be removed and standards depths of new layers be placed on top of the concrete.

The FAA asked the airport to enter into an amended agreement with MC Schaff to analyze the runway dimensions and determine if the runway should remain, be shortened or removed.

“We were reluctant to do that and we spoke to airport staff,” Wolf said.

Wolf said over the last 15-20 years, the community has put a lot of money, time and support into the airport and helping it to grow. If MC Schaff entered into an amended agreement, there is no guarantee that the new analysis would be in the airport’s favor. The new agreement would require 10 years of data, which covers the time when, due to carrier selection, the airport struggled.

“The no growth wasn’t due to the community,” said Matt Ziegler, board member.

Wolf said as the airport’s consultant, he wasn’t comfortable with continuing with such an agreement.

“The airport is just now seeing the fruits of their labor,” Wolf said. “We anticipate that will continue to go up.”

The addition of SkyWest has brought more flights. United Airlines has continued to use Scottsbluff as a diversionary airport and expects to do more when their equipment is fully operational.

“We think those numbers will ramp up once they are fully operational,” Aguallo said. “That’s why we thought by pushing the project back our numbers will give us a fighting chance.”

A cross-wind runway is a safety issue and western Nebraska is known for its winds.

“Look at the jet from Brazil that came here for testing,” said Don Overman, airport board chair. “They came here because we have a lot of wind.”

After visiting with Wolf, Raul Aguallo, airport director, said he and his staff recommended MC Schaff cease all work on the project.

“We don’t see problems in the next couple of years,” Aguallo said. “If we can push this back a little bit we can get the numbers we need to justify the runway.”

The sun and winter weather take its toll on the oxidation of the oil in the asphalt and its elasticity, but most of the aircraft that land and takeoff are not highly detrimental at this time.

Though the FAA is balking at the $8 million price tag, Wolf and Aguallo said it would cost more if they redid the runway the way the FAA suggest.

“All the lights, navigational aids and approaches would have to be redone,” Wolf said. “That’s a time-consuming process.”

In fact, to shorten and narrow the runway as the FAA suggests would cost more money than the $8 million for the proposed project. There are also many negative side effects. Larger planes would not be able to divert here, eliminating a revenue stream that continues to grow.

“If we get rid of the runway or shorten it, then we’re back to one runway for commercial (aircraft),” Ziegler said.

As boardings with SkyWest continue to grow, the carrier would not be able to bring in larger planes to accommodate that growth.

“Because of the investment from the community, I think this is the wrong way to go,” Wolf said. “You’ve invested way too much and I would hate to see you downsize your airport in any way.”

The board agreed with Aguallo and Wolf and will defer action on runway 5-23.