The general public probably doesn’t give airports in the Arctic much of a second thought. You get on the plane, you get off the plane, you had pretzels or peanuts, and that’s the end of it.
But in reality, the everyday life in communities can impact the local airport, especially in the bigger hubs.
Public meetings in Barrow and Kotzebue help planners learn what the community needs most. And while master plans for airport improvements and upgrades are set years in advance, there’s always a little wiggle room if residents come up with some great ideas or have pressing concerns.
Last week in Barrow, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities hosted a meeting on a proposed maintenance and operations building, and improvements and expansions at the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport.
According to the DOT, the new combined maintenance facility will be located on the south side of the airport. The facility will include an aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, snow removal equipment building, heated sand storage, de-icing chemical storage, dispensing vehicle and other associated chemical handling equipment, and living quarters for airport personnel.
The north apron will also be extended to the south by 20 feet to allow planes to pass while the big jets are parked, and extended to the east about 400 feet.
Both projects will be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the State of Alaska and work will optimistically begin work this summer.
The cost as outlined in the master plan for the facility is scheduled to cost around $12 million, though more recent estimates are lower, said Royce Conlon, the consultant project manager with PDC Engineers, Inc.
The original cost estimate for the apron expansion was $13.5 million, though it will cost more, she said, adding that 93 percent of the money will come from the FAA and will be matched by the state.
Interest at the meetings in Barrow was high, with about 30 people attending. There were no major worries about the projects, though comments were made about the material to be used for the upgrades, as gravel is in short supply there. DOT will use its existing material for the project, Conlon said.
“We didn’t have any big concerns that might hold up the project or cause delays.”
Master plan updates for the airports in both Barrow and Kotzebue were recently completed, outlining upcoming projects and projections. Updates to the master plans are done approximately every 10 years and look 20 years into the future.
“We’re asking the public for some ideas about what kind of development alternatives they would like to see at the airport in the future,” said Jeff Roach, the planning manager for aviation and highways with the DOT&PF Northern Region.
A public meeting in Kotzebue is slated for Jan. 28 from 4-7 p.m. at the borough chambers.
“We bring those ideas back and we put them together with the requirements that we have and the future forecast for aviation activity,” Roach said.
That draft is then brought back to the public for additional comment. The whole update takes about 18 months to complete.
Aviation activity — including the number of passengers, the number of aircraft, and the number of takeoffs and landings — in Kotzebue is expected to grow modestly (by about 1 percent) in the coming years with that projection based on many social and economic factors within the region.
“That forecast drives a lot of what our future development plans will be,” he said.
The ongoing expansion in Kotzebue is expected to be completed this summer with the general aviation apron expansion up for construction bid in 2016, Roach said.
A previous idea to relocate the airport has been ditched after a study found that it’s not financially feasible.
“But we’ll be looking at ways to improve operations and meet standards at the existing airport,” he said.
More aviation parking, a venue and ramp to house seaplanes, improved taxiways and increased vehicle parking are all potential upcoming
developments in the updated plan.
“We’re always looking for public input in order to ensure that we’re developing the airport for the maximization of the public,” Roach said.
The current airport master plan itself will cost around $300,000 to update.