ALPENA — The primary runway at the Alpena County Regional Airport is open again after a lengthy reconstruction project, but it will be another couple of weeks before air service provider SkyWest Airlines resumes flights to and from the airport.
The total cost of the project is about $50 million, but the federal government is paying the bulk of the cost.
The county is using a large portion of the nearly $18 million the airport received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Several unexpected hiccups caused the opening of the runway to be delayed, but Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said enough work has been done to open the runway.
Smigelski said SkyWest, who refused to use a secondary runway during construction because of safety concerns, believes there is enough runway available to land the jets.
He said the reason air service won’t commence until Aug. 16 is because of staffing issues.
Smigelski said air crews are unionized and each month bid for air routes. He said because a firm date of when the runway would be open wasn’t known, bids for crews for the Alpena route weren’t sent out.
Bids will go out in September and alternate employees were found to staff flights from Aug. 16 until the end of the month.
“For now, they will use volunteer and reserve crews,” Smigelski said.
One of the project delays occurred in May when a failure of bond breaker on the runway needed to be removed and replaced. Bond breaker is a substance applied between adjoining solid surfaces to ensure there is no adhesive bond between the surfaces.
In early July another snafu pushed the completion date back. Contractors were laying new concrete, and while doing so, large concrete panels at a large intersection between two runways buckled, causing extensive damage.
The issues with the bond breaker and the buckled concrete have been rectified, Smigelski said.
Since SkyWest discontinued its flights, the airport has missed out on thousands of enplanements that it needs to receive a subsidy from the federal government.
An enplanement is a paying passenger at the airport.
When the airport reaches 10,000 enplanements, it is entitled to $1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to use for projects and equipment. It would take a lot of sold out flights for the airport to reach that goal, but Smigelski said he is sure the government will grant the airport a waiver, which will allow it to receive the money, even though it fell below the 10,000 mark.
Last year the airport reported just under 13,000 enplanements.
“Before we get a waiver, the FFA will want to see if we can cross the finish line on our own,” he said. “If it gets into November, and it’s clear that we are going to fall short, then I can submit a request for a waiver.”
When asked what the fallout would be should a waiver be denied, Smigelski said that is highly unlikely.
“We won’t get denied. The way it was explained to me is because we had to close for a repair project, we will be eligible. If they tell me they will do something, I trust them.”