After four years of planning, the project every airport manager dreads, resurfacing the main runway, begins July 12.
For six weekends through Aug. 18, the only runway long enough to handle large commercial and freight jets at Billings Logan International Airport will be shut down from 9 a.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Sunday.
“We recognize that this is wedding time, school reunion time and vacation time,” said Tom Binford, director of aviation and transit. “They’ll have to come in a day earlier or stay a day later.”
The surface of runway 28R is in good shape, but it’s at the end of its serviceable life.
“You’ve got to have it hot and dry,” Binford said, explaining why the runway project is occurring during peak summer travel time.
When two-mile-long runway was resurfaced in 1998, the rules were different.
Airport officials were allowed to mill off the top of the old pavement at night until all the milling was done. They cleaned off the debris and continue to land planes during the day. The resurfacing was done over three days, minimizing passenger inconvenience.
Since then, the Federal Aviation Administration has imposed stricter safety rules for resurfacing runways.
Now the surface must be milled off and replaced before any planes can land.
So the Billings runway will be done in five stages, beginning at the eastern end of the runway.
Airport managers chose to shut down the airport after the early morning flights leave on Friday and reopen Sunday evening because fewer passengers fly then than during weekdays.
“It’s still a huge inconvenience. We recognize that, but it was the best time to get it done,” Binford said, who conducted a media bus tour of the project on Wednesday.
Small aircraft, including private pilots, can use other runways.
Silver Airway planes, which provide Essential Air Service flights to Eastern Montana cities, also could land on alternative runways during the shutdown periods, but may not, Binford said.
“They can land here, but they can’t connect with other aircraft,” he said.
Riverside Contracting Inc. is the prime contractor. Up to 11 employees of Morrison-Maierle Inc., the engineering consultant, will be working double shifts to supervise the project.
To maximize efficiency, about 100 construction workers will be working around the clock on the weekends. Knife River has hauled all the gravel — enough aggregate to cover a football field nine feet deep — to the airport to minimize haul time. And a temporary asphalt plant will be assembled on site.
This fall, crews will do the final task, cutting grooves at night across the runway to meet an FAA requirement to drain off surface moisture.
Should Eastern Montana wildfires break out during the weekend shutdowns, single-engine tankers carrying retardant will have to fly out of Helena, West Yellowstone or Rapid City, S.D.
Once the work starts, airport planning manager Kim Annin will be watching the skies for rain.
“The only thing I worry about is the weather, and I can’t do anything about that,” he said.
Senior airport engineer Gene Wasia said the asphalt surface will last another 15 years, no thanks to Mother Nature.
“The day you lay it, it starts to oxidize in the sun,” Wasia said. “Mother Nature wants to turn it back into oil and aggregate.”