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Runway lands an upgrade

November 6, 2010
Meg Alexander — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - The crosswind runway at Fairmont's airport is out of commission until next year, when reconstruction is complete.

Of course, with it's deteriorating condition, pilots were hardly able to use the surface anyway.

"Moisture in the subgrade deteriorated all but 2 inches of pavement," said Al Pelzer, airport manager. "You could pick it apart with your fingers."

Article Photos

IN?THE?AIR?— Winds whip up the dust this week as construction of a new crosswind runway continues at the Fairmont Municipal Airport.

The crosswind runway is used by aircraft when the wind direction doesn't allow pilots to land on the main 5,500-foot runway. Many surrounding airports have a turf surface for their crosswind runways but, according to Pelzer, Fairmont's paved path makes it a more appealing destination for many pilots.

"Eighty-five, 90 percent of the time aircraft can use the main runway," said Russ Fish, aviation project manager with Bolton & Menk. "The other 10-15 percent of the time you can't use it at all."

Fairmont's crosswind runway had long been in need of reconstruction, but the $1.87 million project had to wait until the Federal Aviation Administration freed funds for it. With an FAA grant covering 95 percent of the cost, the city of Fairmont is left paying $93,000.

"It was part of the FAA airport improvement program," Fish said. "The revenue source is through fuel tax for airports."

The grant money for the runway reconstruction presents a great opportunity to the piloting community and the city of Fairmont, Pelzer believes.

"I've always liked the saying, 'If you build a mile of highway, you can go a mile. If you build a mile of runway, you can go anywhere,'" he said.

The FAA was slow getting the grant money out to its recipients, which is why work on the runway didn't begin until after Labor Day. Complete reconstruction of the 3,3000-foot runway, plus new lights and visual aids for approaching pilots, will be complete next year.

Originally, said Fish, when the bids were taken, the assumption was the project would be done this year. But the late start and major rains in September stymied those plans.

"We decided to get it ready for paving to the extent we can this fall," he said.

With temperatures right around 50 degrees - any lower and contractors can't pour asphalt - the construction manager decided better safe than sorry was the best approach. Fish estimates the runway will be usable by June, with the work totally complete in mid-July.

"Everybody's really looking forward to it," Pelzer said.

The crosswind runway was last reconstructed during the 1970s, when the trend was to pave directly on the subgrade.

"That really is no longer done," Fish said.

This time around, an entirely different approach is being taken, and is inspired in part by the three Rs: recycle, reuse, renew. The old asphalt from the runway is being milled and blended to create the base for the new surface.

"The owner already owns the material, and it's right there on site, so let's use it," Fish said.

When the old lights are removed, they'll be salvaged as well, through a Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics program. Other airports that need the parts will be able to pick through the equipment.

"They make sure all the resources ... are used as long as they can be," Fish said.



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