Santa Maria Airport runway nearly open for business

When incoming aircraft approach the main runway at Santa Maria Public Airport beginning next week, pilots will see fresh black asphalt and an orange carpet of California golden poppies.  The state flower planting is part of the effort to restore the land surrounding the 1,700-foot runway extension, which will be open for use May 3. The bright splash of color was added at the suggestion of airport Board of Directors President Carl Engel, Jr.

“All of the native grasses and seed you have out there, I requested one thing — California poppies. You look out there now and you’ll see poppies and lupines,” Engel said. “Somebody asked me why I wanted it, I told them when I go up in space, I want to be able to look down and see that orange spot.”  Restoring native habitat surrounding the runway that was torn up during construction was always part of the project. Engel’s suggestion just added a dash of orange and purple to the color palette.

The effort to extend the main runway at the airport to 8,004 feet began around 10 years ago when the district began considering preparation of an environmental impact report for a 700-foot extension. That project grew into the current extension that is now on final approach.

“Basically, the runway extension is an integral part of our plan to develop the airport and to provide services to the public,” Engel said. “By adding this runway we’re going to open up doors we haven’t opened before.”  By extending the runway to its maximum length while staying on airport property, and developing its business park, Engel said the airport district is assuring its long-term financial health. 

Actual construction of the two-phase project took off in 2010. It won’t be completely finished until May 31, according to General Manager Chris Hastert.

“The morning of (May 3) it’s open with two (Instrument Flight Rules) approaches, which is the non-precision approach (VOR) and the Global Positioning System (GPS) approach,” Hastert said. “Our instrument landing system, they’re still working on right now. It’s still scheduled for May 31 for the instrument landing system, so we’ll be fully open after that.”

After navigating the project through unexpected turbulence with the Federal Aviation Administration and construction obstacles, Hastert said he had hoped to be the first to land on the new asphalt, but he won’t be able to do that. He’ll be out of the area when the runway begins accepting aircraft.

“It’s going to be a great feeling, especially for being able to offer up the airport to the industry for Allegiant with Hawaii, or the (U.S.) Forest Service with the DC-10. They’ve been hearing about this for years and years and years. Now we can say yes, you can use it,” he said.  Allegiant Air currently flies to Las Vegas from Santa Maria, and the airport will serve as a reloading base for firefighting planes needing retardant during the fire season.

The airport Board of Directors will consider a pair of change orders related to the extension project when they meet Thursday at 7 p.m. at the airport administration building.  Both are with general contractor Granite Construction, which handled both phases of the project.

The first change order covers some work in the project that didn’t match bid estimates, such as how much asphalt was used and how much excavation was required to finish the project. The project required 414 tons more asphalt than estimated, at $113 per ton. Hastert said the adjustment was small, considering the entire project took 14,000 tons of asphalt. 

The second will provide the district with a bit of a discount on the overall cost of the runway pavement, Hastert said.  Not all of the pavement passed the exacting FAA standards, so the district won’t be charged full bid price for the job.  “It’s a performance-based (specification). The FAA spec is almost impossible to pass,” he said. “There were a couple of areas that were not quite up to full spec, but still well within the limit for good asphalt.”

The board will also consider annual salary increases, which Hastert said are tied to the consumer price index, for both management and non-management employees.

By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer Santa Maria Times | Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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