TRAVERSE CITY — The Northwestern Regional Airport Commission is moving ahead with a $10.3 million project to extend Cherry Capital Airport's longest runway.
Commissioners at a recent meeting approved $321,412 in contracts with Prein & Newhof for preliminary designs and studies to add 115 feet to the western end of the airport's east-west runway, airport Director Kevin Klein said. Once complete the runway will be 7,015 feet long, allowing it to handle fully-loaded passenger planes in the summer heat.
Once temperatures hit 86 degrees, the air is thin enough that larger planes need more runway room, Klein said. Airlines have had to leave a few seats empty to compensate, ranging from two for regional jets to 14 for larger planes. That means they're forced to lighten their loads during the region's hottest tourist season.
"When you have to do that, of course it affects the airlines' bottom line," he said.
The completed project will extend the runway, replace its 24-year-old surface and realign the taxiway to the new west end, Klein said. Federal Aviation Administration funds will cover $6,363,000 of the estimated $10,368,000 budget. Money from passenger facility charges will cover another $3,650,500 — that's where the $4.50 tacked onto each ticket for flights out of TVC goes.
The extension also could require some tree removal in a neighborhood west of the runway, Klein said. Preliminary studies show tree removal is needed even without the lengthening. Commissioners approved a $62,356 contract with Mead & Hunt for obstruction removal engineering, which includes trees along with power poles, antennas and other objects.
A map shows the neighborhood is bound by Barlow Street to the west, Robinwood Court to the north and Gladewood Lane to the south. Klein said the commission will host a public hearing toward the end of February at the earliest, then work with neighborhood residents on tree removal and obtaining navigational easements.
Klein said the airport commission will seek construction bids in the spring once engineering work is complete. He hopes to award bids in the summer, and construction should begin either in September 2017 or spring 2018.
The project shouldn't interrupt flights into and out of the airport, as its shorter, north-south runway will remain in service and airlines will adjust their schedules to use the other runway, Klein said.
"It's an exciting project," he said. "It'll assist our outreach, especially working with airlines on our outreach to go to communities farther and farther away."
Editor's note: Because of a reporter's error, this story included incorrect directional references related to the runway project. The article has been edited to correct the errors. — Jan. 9, 2017