October 30, 2011
By JOSEPH G. COTE
NASHUA – Even if the new $16 million runway at Boire Field isn’t the biggest general aviation project in the country, it will still offer a significant improvement to one of the city’s major economic engines.
The Nashua Airport Authority will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at Nashua Municipal Airport at 11 a.m. Monday to celebrate the start of construction on the new runway. The project should be finished next fall, airport manager Royce Rankin Jr. said.
“It’s quite a bit of money being put back into our infrastructure,” he said. “It’s a big deal, and it’s going to put people back to work.”
The project is expected to create more than 40 full-time jobs and be a boon to most of the 30 businesses that revolve around the airfield.
The project to construct a 6,000-foot runway will cost about $16 million, primarily from Federal Aviation Administration and New Hampshire Department of Transportation grants, said Mary Ann Velosky, a spokeswoman at Gale Associates, the airport’s engineering firm.
Brian Smith, the head of Gale Associates’ airport engineering department, said planners were told the project is the largest for general aviation, meaning no commercial flights, in the country this year.
Jim Peters, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said the project is being paid for through a couple of grants, including the FAA’s state block grant, but isn’t the largest in the country this year.
“We don’t think it’s the largest even if you combine the totals,” he said.
The new runway will eventually replace the existing 5,500-foot runway. That extra 500 feet isn’t enough for larger airplanes to use the strip, Rankin said. In particular, it won’t make it possible for commercial passenger service to come here, partly because of the expense that would be involved in setting up security arrangements.
“It’s not as though we’re putting in a runway and expecting the Delta Connection to come in here,” Rankin joked.
Most of the craft at Boire Field are single-engine propeller planes that hold two to four people, but five large corporate jets, owned by corporations and private individuals, are based at Boire Field.
The largest is a Gulfstream 5, which can hold up to 19 passengers and fly 5,800 miles at speeds up to Mach 0.8. Its standard takeoff distance is almost a mile, which leaves little margin of error with a 5,500-foot runway, particularly during hot weather, because hot air has less lift for aircraft.
Greg Lison, owner of Infinity Aviation, said large-cabin corporate jets can’t take off fully fueled because the fuel weighs too much for the planes to get up to speed on the existing runway. The extra 500 feet will allow full tanks and longer trips, he said.
“We are excited about it,” Lison said. “It’s really about margin of safety. It’s an increased margin of safety all around.”
Steve Cunningham, owner of Nashua Flight Simulator, said it will mean more money for the airport from fuel taxes and for pilots who could take on more passengers per flight.
“It’s important economically because the bigger airplanes can’t take off here fully loaded,” he said.
The new runway will be parallel to the current runway, but shifted 300 feet to the north. That shift is the major reason for the work, since the current runway is closer to the taxiway than FAA regulations allow.
The current runway is also nearing the end of its standard 25-year life; it was last repaved in 1987.
The new runway will also end a minor quirk. Currently, the Sharon Avenue end of the runway (known officially as 32, because it points toward 320 degrees on the compass) is 10 feet higher than the opposite end, which can slightly affect takeoffs and landings. The new runway will be level.
The project will bring the airport into compliance with FAA safety standards, and will include safety areas and add visual and navigational aids, electrical systems and drainage improvements to the airport, Velosky said. The new runway will have the weight limits: a maximum of 62,000-133,000 pounds, depending on how many landing wheels the craft has.
Gov. John Lynch and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and other local officials will speak at the ceremony, which is invitation only because of airport security issues, Velosky said.
The FAA freed up $10 million for the project last month while Congress debated the future of the FAA, particularly over $14 million in subsidies to rural airports.
In August, FAA funding was shut off when Congress missed a deadline, leaving 42 employees on furlough. Short-term budgets have been approved since then.
The work comes even as airports, particularly those that depend on private general aviation rather than commercial air carriers, have seen sharp drops in traffic, largely because of the recession.
The problem is worse in Nashua because neighboring Daniel Webster College is shutting its flight operations degree, ending the thousands of flights taken by student pilots each year.
The program will end in 2013, and already, the number of student pilots at DWC has fallen by more than half.
As of 2010, the total number of operations – meaning a takeoff or a landing – in Nashua had fallen by 42 percent in five years, according to Federal Aviation Administration data. The 2011 total seems certain to decline again.
However, Rankin said the airport is seeing more jet flights, probably because of an increase in overall corporate business.
Before the recession, he said, the Nashua airport saw 160-170 jet operations monthly. That number fell to “less than 100,” but has recently moved “back up in to the 120s.”
Source: NASHUA TELEGRAPH