TRAVERSE CITY— Local airline travelers won’t be asked to get off planes and reschedule flights as often next summer, thanks to a runway extension that’s expected to wrap late next month.
The warmer, lighter air of summer days provides less lift than jets can achieve on the airport’s existing 6,500-foot runway. The airport plans to extend its runway by 800 feet to solve that problem.
The first phase of construction will lengthen the runway’s east end toward Three Mile Road by 400 feet. The project began July 8 and is slated for completion by the end of October. Federal inspection and approval likely will be finalized in December, said Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein.
The $4.2 million, “phase one” expansion will allow all regional jets but DC-9s to carry a full passenger load, Klein said.
“Except for the very hottest days, 96-, 99-degree days, we shouldn’t have to ask people to get off the plane,” Klein said.
An estimated 2,000 passengers are asked to exit planes each summer. Klein suspects the phase one project will cut the summer passenger loss to about 600 seats.
The DC-9 is particularly affected, with about 14 people being forced from flights on a hot day. Regional jets are limited to one to two people needing to get off, he said.
“There was a week at the end of July, the whole week was in the 90s, and we had issues with passengers having to be re-booked and flights readjusted during that time,” Klein said.
The second phase will extend the runway by 400 feet on the west end and tentatively is planned to begin construction in 2016 or 2017. The extension will push Garfield Road about 100 yards west to maintain safety margins. The new road section is expected to include a 10-foot-wide median and a bike path on the west side, Klein said.
The first phase was budgeted for $5.2 million; the total bill will come in about $1 million less than that. Unspent grant funds will roll over into phase two, Klein said.
Klein said airlines were advised a year in advance of the project so they could adjust flight schedules to accommodate the construction.
“Even though the overall goal was to lengthen the runway, we had to shorten the runway first,” he said. “So we had to keep everybody safe — big trucks and airplanes don’t mix.”
The airport paid for phase one with federal airport improvement entitlement funds earned through ticket taxes.