Colorado Airport Behind on Runway Reconstruction

Reconstruction of Colorado Springs Airport's main runway is two months behind schedule, which could cause problems for travelers and airport staff this holiday travel season, airport officials said this week.

The reconstruction project was scheduled to be completed by next Tuesday. Airport staff and contractors now predict the runway, the longest of three at the airport, will be finished mid-December.

Having one fewer runway could be a problem for travelers if a winter storm hits on Thanksgiving weekend, the busiest travel weekend of the year, said John McGinley, assistant aviation director for operations.

Snow removal teams typically shut down one runway at a time, clear it of ice and snow and divert traffic to the other two runways as needed. Until the main runway reopens, crews will have to clear the two runways in between plane arrivals and departures, which can be a two-minute window, or divert all traffic to one runway.

"It's more stress because we try to do it between aircraft operations," said Troy Stover, airport maintenance manager. "Before, we would clear one runway in anticipation and then direct traffic there while we cleared the other runway. Now we can't do that as much. But on the other hand, we will have less runway to plow."

The airport has trained 12 additional people for the snow removal team, bringing the staff to 40, and modified a training program, Stover said.

A bad snowstorm could hamper their ability to quickly clear the two runways, possibly causing delays for travelers.

The runway problem could motivate travelers to fly out of Denver International Airport, said Joan Spratford, travel agent with A Travel Advantage.

"If they want to increase traffic at the Colorado Springs Airport, this is not the way to do it," Spratford said. "Last year, the parking lot was torn up in the middle of the Christmas rush. They just keep dealing out these blows and then they wonder why they are losing traffic."

Having the main runway out of commission had a big impact on summer traffic, which was at its lowest this decade. Carriers sold fewer seats on flights from Colorado Springs to decrease the weight of their aircraft. Because warm summer air is less dense, planes need longer runways or less weight to get airborne, and the shorter runways were insufficient for takeoffs of fully loaded planes when temperatures reached near 87 degrees.

Reconstruction of the 15-year-old runway began in January after airport officials noticed the concrete surface was crumbling and worried that chunks of broken concrete could get sucked into jet engines. The premature corrosion was caused by a chemical reaction in the concrete from FAA-approved plane deicer.

John Faulkner, assistant aviation director for planning and development, said several issues during construction caused the delay. Workers spent more time testing concrete mixes, repouring several concrete slabs and dealing with shortages in a certain type of oil that is used to make runway asphalt, Faulkner said.

He added that workers also had a problem building the runway's shoulders, buffer zones on the sides of the runway, that pushed the project back several more weeks.

Faulkner, who is overseeing the project, said the delays are "pretty typical" for a project of this size.

"Still, anything that happens to delay a project like this is something we don't like," he said. "It would have been better if could have gotten it done by Thanksgiving."

Bob Kudwa, member on Airport Advisory Commission Board- a city appointed group of volunteer group that advises airport staff on aviation related issues-said the situation could have been much worse.

"To be honest, with what they've had to over come, I'm pretty pleased at where we are today. I can't imagine where we would be if the airport staff wasn't as tuned on and working hard to overcome problems," Kudwa said. "As a citizen and tax payer I pretty pleased with the crowd we've got up there."

The delays will not add to the project's $32.2 million price, Faulkner said.

Workers still need to pour some concrete, finish electrical work for runway lighting and repave the runway shoulders, he said.

"It seems as though we're getting more and more done where less can go wrong," Faulkner said. "Every day, the window for the potential for things to go wrong gets smaller."

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