Sawyer runway could be shortened

MARQUETTE – With a reduction in Federal Aviation Administration funding for repairs and construction, Sawyer International Airport officials are recommending shortening the length of the airport runway by roughly one quarter of its 12,366-foot length.

Under the recommendation, the length of the 150-foot-wide runway would be reduced to 9,000 feet and the length of an adjacent taxi-way would also be shortened.

An estimated $870,000 from Airport Improvement Program and Passenger Facility Charge funding would be used to pay for moving navigational aids, repainting the runway and completing other work involved in shortening the runway.

“No airport wants to lose runway, because once you lose it, you theoretically never get it back,” Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane DuRay said. “But we would still be able to accommodate just about any commercial aircraft that would ever consider flying into Sawyer.”

DuRay said Air Force One, which flew to Sawyer for a Marquette visit by President Barack Obama in February 2011, and a Russian Antonov An-124, which has a wingspan of more than 240 feet and landed at Sawyer last July to pick up supplies, could both safely use the shortened 9,000-foot runway.

In addition to the shorter runway being adequate to address current needs, DuRay said it would also cost less to maintain. Closing the north part of the runway and taxi-way would be expected to cut maintenance costs by $15,000 to $20,000 each year. Officials said the number of airport staff would remain the same, because of numerous areas at the airport needing timely snow removal, but overtime hours for snow removal may be reduced.

The Marquette County Board is scheduled to discuss the recommendation at its meeting at 6 p.m. today in Room 231 of the Henry Skewis Annex to the Marquette County Courthouse in Marquette.

“In 2011, the FAA informed Sawyer International Airport that federal funding would no longer support repair or construction on the north 3,366 feet of the runway, including the north section of Taxiway A,” Sawyer Operations Manager Steve Schenden stated in a recent memo. “The county could continue to operate the full length of the runway, but all repair and construction costs would have to be funded by Sawyer International Airport for the section of runway proposed to be closed.”

DuRay said federal officials drew the same conclusion as airport staff that Sawyer doesn’t need the full-length runway and would no longer fund repairs or construction for the northern section.

Schenden said there could be service interruptions during major runway projects. The north and south ends of the runway are concrete, the center section is asphalt that is 30 years old.

“A shortened runway could present challenges when there is runway construction, depending on the location of the construction,” Schenden said. “At its current length, the runway can be cut in half when there is construction, allowing for continued service.”

In the future, the center asphalt section of the runway will need to be rehabilitated.

“With the reduced runway length, the project may cause closure of the runway for a couple of weeks,” Schenden said.

DuRay said he is trying to work on getting funding to rehabilitate the remaining sections of the runway before closing the northern section.

“My goal is to keep the north end open until 2016,” DuRay said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.