Runway reconstruction at Marshfield Airport is expected to begin this month after a 12-year planning process, now that a Federal Aviation Administration grant of $11.3 million has been approved to fund the bulk of the work.
The entire runway will be moved about 190 feet southwest to reduce its effect on the adjacent Bass Creek wetland, airport manager David Dinneen said. The new runway will be 300 feet longer than the existing one, and will be widened to 100 feet from 75.
Other airfields south of Boston are also making plans to improve or have made improvements recently, including a new hangar that opened July 1 at Cranland Airport in Hanson and reconstruction of taxiways at Norwood Memorial Airport.
Mansfield Municipal Airport aims to replace its terminal within two years, if the project can win state funding. And at Plymouth Municipal Airport, a runway extension project is in the permitting phase for construction expected to start in 18 to 30 months.
The Marshfield Airport, like other general aviation airports, supports a mix of uses, including recreational, corporate, and medical flights, flight instruction, and search and rescue. The airport’s aviation company, Shoreline Aviation, can have a plane in the air within 10 minutes to aid rescue operations for a boat accident or missing child, Dinneen said.
The runway extension at the airport’s George D. Harlow Field is designed to make the runway safer and bring it into compliance with FAA standards, he said. It has not been rebuilt since its construction in 1968; the airfield’s last upgrade was the paving of the taxiway in 1972, he said.
Lighting and navigation systems will be replaced as well. Energy-efficient LED lights will be used for the taxiways, but not the runway, because they are not approved by the FAA for that purpose, he said.
The cost of engineering and construction is about $15 million; the airport anticipates receiving just over $13 million from the FAA. The $11.3 million announced last week by US Representative William Keating is likely to be supplemented with additional funds to reach $13 million, Dinneen said. Marshfield is contributing $200,000, and other funding will come from the state.
“Everybody is really excited, because it has been such a long process,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Norwood Memorial Airport reconstructed three taxiways, and the airport has received an FAA grant of $1,075,000 to reconstruct the remaining three. For the new project, the FAA will pay 90 percent, the state Department of Transportation 7.5 percent, and the town 2.5 percent, the same shares paid for the other three taxiways, manager Russ Maguire said.
Peter Oakley, owner of Cranland Airport, said the runway there was resurfaced two years ago with 80 percent funding from the state, but the small airport is not eligible for FAA grants because it is privately owned.
Although he does not regret buying the airport in July of 2011, Oakley said, the financial commitment is heavy. He had a $350,000 hangar built this summer.
“All I’ve been doing is pouring money into that place,” he said. “It’s like a black hole.”
The Plymouth Municipal Airport is seeking permits to extend the shorter of its two intersecting runways to match the longer one, which is 4,350 feet. The change means jets could use whichever runway has the best wind conditions, so both jets and smaller planes – which need to take off into the wind – could use the same runway on a given day, improving safety, according to airport manager Tom Maher.
Staff at several local airports emphasized the airports’ contribution to the local economy, saying they generate business both on and off the airport and serve as a gateway for companies looking to move to Massachusetts.
A 2011 Massachusetts Department of Transportation study found that local airports generate significant economic activity. Norwood Memorial Airport generated $51.4 million annually in direct and indirect economic benefits, Plymouth Municipal Airport $48.5 million, Mansfield Municipal Airport $9.1 million, Marshfield Municipal Airport $8.1 million, and Cranland Airport $183,000.
Maguire, manager of Norwood Memorial since 1995, said the town has been very supportive, approving its local share of funding for recent reconstruction of taxiways.
“Norwood is a very pro-business town, and the airport is an economic engine,” he said.
The airport supports 11 on-site businesses, including flight schools, maintenance shops, charter services, flight simulation, fueling, a car rental company, and a restaurant. The New England Patriots and numerous corporations use the airport, he said, and two Boston television stations keep their helicopters there.
Traffic at local airports is beginning to rebound from the recession, but has not reached pre-2008 levels, officials said.
Maher said traffic at the Plymouth airport fell about 15 percent in the recession. The airport now hosts an estimated 65,000 operations – counting takeoffs and landings separately – per year. Norwood had 78,000 operations last year, and Marshfield has 17,000 to 20,000 annually.
Airports also track business by the number of aircraft based on the property. Dinneen said Marshfield has more than 50 planes based at the airport this year, up from the high 40s last year, and fuel sales are higher, too. Rising fuel and insurance costs seem to have dampened the recovery, he said.
But aviation has a longer-term problem, according to Kelley Dinneen, sister of David Dinneen and president of King Aviation Mansfield, the company that manages the Mansfield airport.
Kelley Dinneen said many of the older generation of pilots who learned to fly in the military are no longer able to fly, and fewer young people are learning. The cost of college and flight training, combined with what she called a “dismal” starting income of about $22,000 at regional airlines, keeps them away, she said.
The Mansfield airport had about 144 planes based there seven or eight years ago; today it has more like 85, she said.
Dinneen said airports are a good place for young people to spend time, away from television and video games, and flying helps make them health-conscious, because poor health can prevent someone from getting a pilot’s license.
She said the declining population of pilots will be the subject of a roundtable discussion at the Massachusetts Airport Management Association annual conference later this month at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Despite the decline, the Mansfield airport hopes to replace its terminal under a state Department of Transportation program that will renovate or replace between 11 and 15 buildings at airports around the state, at a total cost of $15 to $20 million, over an undetermined number of years.
Christopher Willenborg, aeronautics administrator at DOT, said that in a recent DOT review, 81 percent of the state’s general aviation airports had terminal or administration buildings, and only 37 percent of those buildings had been renovated or replaced since 1990.
Mansfield’s terminal is very old and will probably need to be replaced, he said, though neither he nor Dinneen knew its exact age.
Dinneen said she believes the building may have been moved to the airport in the 1950s.
By early spring, DOT hopes to select two or three airport buildings to include in its state budget request for the next fiscal year.
Willenborg said the agency will be looking for ways to make the new buildings environmentally sound and sustainable. Construction of selected buildings could start in the latter half of 2014.