Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport celebrated Wednesday the completion of a six-month, $7.6-million runway reconstruction project with a parade of historic aircraft and an eye towards the luring the next generation of fighter aircraft to the airport’s Air National Guard Base.
“It would secure the future of Barnes for a generation,” said William Gonet, chairman of the Westfield Airport Commission. “The 104th puts us on the map and allows us to go after civilian tenants and improvements.”
The Massachusetts Air National Guard 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes is being considered for an upgrade from the F-15 fighters it has now to the next-generation F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
The project celebrated Wednesday, and completed only earlier this week, is not on a part of the Barnes airfield used by the 104th and its F-15s, said Christopher J. Willenborg, airport manager.
This project is the reconstruction and resurfacing of the shorter of Barnes’ two runways, the 5,000-foot-long Runway 15-33, last reconstructed in the 1970s.
The project was mostly paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration with $6.77 million. The state Department of Transportation provided $486,000 and the city of Westfield provided $398,000.
General contractor ET& L Corp. of Stowe, Massachusetts, did the work.
The project follows $3 million in drainage work in 2018 and the $17 million reconstruction of the 9,000-foot-long runway 2-20 used by the Air National Guard.
The newly rebuilt runway, 15-33, is used by general aviation pilots when winds are favorable and by Army National Guard medical evacuation helicopters stationed at the base, Willenborg said.
Like much of the economy, aviation took a huge hit from the coronavirus pandemic.
The airport recorded 5,700 take offs and landings in June, a 43% increase from a year ago, Willenborg said. In a good year, the airport will average 45,0000 to 50,000 take offs and landings, but for months in the spring the coronavirus grounded flight schools and restricted travel.
Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport brings in about $1 million a year to city coffers in rent and taxes compared with a cost to the city budget of $800,000 a year.
In total, the airport and its tenants — military and civilian — have a $138.5 million payroll and and total economic impact of $236 million a year, the airport is responsible directly for indirectly for 2,100 jobs.
Gonet said the new runway improvements help Barnes compete for civil aviation business, projects like Gulfstream which does aircraft maintenance at the airport with Westover in Chicopee and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
Besides Gulfstream, Barnes has fixed-base operator Ross-Rectrix, flight schools, a training program through Westfield Technical Academy and Air Methods with its flying a Life Star medical helicopters serving Hartford Healthcare and Baystate Medical Center.
And the key is that Westfield is both a civilian and military facility, he said.
That’s why its important that Westfield get the F-35, Gonet said.
Westfield Mayor Donald Humason said part of the Pentagon’s criteria will be the community’s willingness to accept the new jets. The Air Force will not want to put them in a community where there is opposition.
So Humason is pointing to the ongoing noise abatement efforts at Barnes and the city’s long history with the base.
State Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, also spoke of the importance of attracting the F-35.