Wichita Eisenhower National Airport's runways are set for a big makeover in 2019.
The $13 million to $15 million project will give the airport's two primary and one crosswind runways another 10 years of life, officials say. The runways also will be renumbered.
But to get the work done means closing down one of the airport's two primary runways for several months at a time.
Officials say they think they can do that without affecting travel to and from Kansas' largest commercial airport, but they can't promise there won't be inconveniences or disruptions for passengers along the way.
The project calls for replacing the electrical systems that power the runways' guidance signs as well as their edge, touchdown and center line lights, airport engineering and planning manager John Oswald said.
It also includes repairing and replacing pavement on Eisenhower's three runways: the 10,300-foot west runway, the 7,300-foot east runway and the 6,300-foot crosswind runway.
"It's been over 10 years since (runway repair was last done) and some of the electrical systems are in excess of 20 years old," Oswald said. "It's a necessary project."
During that project, the airport will officially renumber its runways because of the slow but constant shift of magnetic poles that has altered the compass headings pilots use to fly in and out of Eisenhower. The west runway that is designated 1L-19R, or 1 Left-19 Right, will be changed to 2L-20R, while the east runway will be changed to 2R-20L. The crosswind runway, now numbered 14-32, will become 15-33.
Oswald said the airport plans to pay for the project through a Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program grant.
Because of the time of year when the FAA typically awards those grants, the runway project is expected to start sometime between late summer and early fall of 2019, he said.
'No good time'
There's no doubt that the runway project will cause some inconvenience for aircraft manufacturers Bombardier and Textron Aviation, the fixed base operators who provide fuel and service to general aviation aircraft, the six airlines serving Eisenhower and, to a lesser degree, airline passengers.
"Any user, if you ask them when's a good time to do this … close a runway for four months, they'll say, 'There's no good time,'" said Brad Christopher, Wichita Airport Authority assistant airports director.
"Unlike a highway, we can't close part of (a runway)," he added. "It's either closed or open."
Long before any kind of work begins, Christopher said, airport officials will meet with the airlines, the manufacturers and general aviation companies to plan a construction schedule, including which runway will be the first to be worked on.
Even then it gets a little more complicated because there's only one really long runway at Eisenhower. And that's the west runway, which is used mostly by the airlines and their large, heavy jets
The airport really needs the west runway in two seasons: late summer when temperatures soar into the triple digits and winter when snow and ice can make landings trickier.
"When it's really hot airlines, need the extra runway distance because of heat and effect it has on aircraft," Christopher said. Likewise in the winter, when despite Eisenhower crews' best efforts to rid the runways of snow and ice, "we normally can't clear them to an entirely dry, pristine condition."
"They're still safe to operate on, but in situations like that, airlines need additional safety factors, just due to braking," he said. "Again, the longer the runway, the more desirable."
While Christopher said the possibility is remote, there could be an instance where temperatures are high, the west runway is closed for construction and airline officials would have to take some weight off an airplane to be able to safely take off on a shorter runway.
In that instance they could do so by taking off some fuel, baggage, cargo — or passengers.
"Our goal, our challenge is to keep that from happening as much as we can," Christopher said. "We can’t guarantee it."
For passengers, the more likely inconvenience will be longer time getting from the runway to the gate and vice versa, which depending on what runway is shut down for construction could mean an extra taxi time of "maybe 5 to 10 minutes, maybe," Christopher said.
However, he said, officials are counting on the airport's two primary runways to mean there will be little to no inconvenience for the traveling public. Earlier in his career, he worked at commercial airports that only had one runway and needed re-construction.
"We are in an enviable situation," he said. "Many of us have done this at single runway airports. At least we’ve got the benefit of two primary runways."