Business owners at Iowa City Airport (IOW) in Iowa are bracing to lose a month’s worth of business because of a runway reconstruction project.
The work is slated to begin Aug. 3 and is expected to last until September.
The airport has two runways: 7/25, measuring 5,004 by 100 feet; and 12/30, which measures 3,900 by 150 feet. The runways intersect.
“We are reconstructing the remaining existing runways, including the intersection, which date back to their original construction during the late 1940s and early 1950s,” explains Michael Tharp, airport operations specialist.
According to Tharp, the timing of the project has to do with taking advantage of airport improvement and economic stimulus funds that require the money be used in a specific timeframe.
“The FAA is providing $4,006,712 out of $4,120,972 to do this work,” he says.
Runway 7/25 work is slated to be completed first, after the intersection work is completed. Then work will begin on 12/30.
“The intent was to allow the primary runway to be completed first and reopened as soon as possible,” he says.
The first construction funds were received June 8 and the airport was “forced” to begin the project because of the time constraints, he says.
“Given this is Iowa and we’ve already experienced a far cry from ‘normal’ weather this year, being in a position to be forced to break this project up to two construction seasons is not an option,” he explains. “There was a ‘use it or loose it’ requirement in the funding.”
While airport users, especially the business owners, applaud the idea of improving the facility, the timing of the project is cause for concern.
“This closes the entire airport for the duration of paving,” says Jay Honeck, owner of the Alexis Park Inn and Suites, an aviation-themed hotel on the airport.
Honeck is also a member of Friends of Iowa City Airport, a grass roots group made up of pilots and aviation advocates. He says many of the members are upset about the way the closure is happening.
“The closure was scheduled for the month of September. It was then suddenly moved up to the month of August, with just 20 days notice. It’s in the middle of flying season,” he says. “We have been trying to contact all of our reservations for the month of August to tell them about the airport closure. Unfortunately, guests who book online don’t always tell us whether they are flying or driving in, so we will have to contact all of our future reservations. This will be an on-going headache, since the word about the airport closure cannot be effectively disseminated nationally, and most people book online nowadays.”
Tharp counters that airport officials are using every means at their disposal to notify pilots about the closure.
“Airport tenants have been notified by direct mail letter and email where available,” he says. “Notices have been posted throughout the terminal building. NOTAMs will appear within the authorization window for them to be issued.”
Honeck estimates the closure will cost his business about $10,000 “in a year when we can’t afford to lose it.”
Other airport businesses directly impacted include an FBO, Jet Air, and two flight schools, Iowa Flight Training and Whirlybirds. “Obviously, businesses that rely on the airport for transportation also will be hurt,” Honeck says, noting some of those are ITC, City Carton, Riverside Casino, and the University of Iowa.
The airport has been in existence since the Golden Age of aviation. It was a stop for the fledgling airmail service and was used by the military during World War II. Until 2006 the airport had three runways. Runway 18/36 was closed in 2006 because the FAA determined that it was not necessary for the safety of the airport and chose not to fund its maintenance. Some airport users have asked why a portion of the north-south runway can’t be used as a temporary runway during construction provided it is NOTAM’d “use at your own risk.”
“It’s not practical for a number of reasons,” says Tharp. “The area is being used to house the construction materials and is the on-site location of the rock crushing operations, which is recycling the old runway pavement to be reused during the project. A number of flaws exist in the runway and the cost to rehabilitate it was estimated between $1.5 million and $2 million.”
“Things are not the same around here as they were before that runway was shut down,” notes Philip Wolford, vice president of JetAir, one of the FBOs at the airport. “Since runway 18/36 was closed, a road has been built on the south end of it and an industrial park was built on the north end. There is also an ASOS on it now, so it would be physically impossible to safely reopen it.”
Although he’s not happy about the closure of the runway during a heavy flying month, Wolford says the work has to be done while the airport has the money for the project and the weather supports construction work.
“The last thing you want is to delay something like this because once the snow flies the work is shut down and it ends up costing you more money,” he says. “The construction isn’t a surprise to anyone. We knew it was coming and that the airport was going to have to be closed down for at least three weeks. It is an inconvenience, but when the work is done we will have one of the nicest airports in Iowa.”
Tharp notes the project has been in the Airport Master plan for the better part of 10 years.
For more information: ICgov.org/Airport.