State, City officials celebrate airport runway expansion; and the economic development opportunities thereafter

State and City dignitaries held a groundbreaking for the airport runway extension project held yesterday. 

by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — Pilots, who are responsible of flying multimillion dollar Cessna Citation jets, may find the Wellington Municipal Airport very appealing when needing to refuel on a continental flight from the east to west coast.

At least that is what state and city officials are hoping, as the process is underway for the expansion of the city airport runway by 1,000 feet – from 4,250 to 5,250 feet – to accommodate larger private/commercial jets. The project is expected to be completed by August 2018.

The City of Wellington held its ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday morning under clear skies at the spot of the new airport expansion. The project — which will extend to the north — will include a new taxiway turnaround, a realignment of the dirt road 50th avenue to the north and the removal of the existing sewer lagoons — hooking the airport to the city sanitation system.

But at the heart of this project is the hope that Wellington’s airport will become a regional hub not over for transient customers flying across the U.S., but for aircraft and other industrial executives who need to fly into Sumner County to do business.

This is as much about economic development than anything else.

Richard Carlson, Director of Kansas Department of Transportation, at Wellington Municipal Airport Wednesday.

“The Kansas Airport System is a $200 million business,” said Richard Carlson, Director of Kansas Department of Transportation. “This is an important process in making the state of Kansas as a whole more economically viable.”

Matt Jacobs, professional engineer for Lochner – the company in charge of the construction of the project, said the 1,000-foot extension serves many purposes.

“One of the biggest issues is insurance companies will no longer allow many of the Cessna aircrafts to land on a strip that is under 5,000 feet,” Jacobs said. “Sure there is no problem for a good pilot to land a private jet on a 4,000 foot runway. But if you are not allowed to do so, then you won’t do it.”

Also, the expansion is advantageous on those stifling 100 degree, 80 percent humid days in Kansas which requires more fuel and less weight to get the plane into the air. With the larger runway, the pilot has more room to negotiate without skimping on needed fuel to get wherever the client will be going.

Many of these aircrafts can hold up to eight individuals.

Economic opportunity

Wellington also is in one of the most coveted areas in the nation as far as small aircraft is concerned. The trip from a city such as Boston to Kansas is an easy one to make on a full tank of aviation fuel. But pilots are not willing to risk going much further.

“And here is the big key, Wellington is rural enough, that pilots don’t have to fight the air traffic in Wichita,” Jacobs said. “It is a win-win proposition for the pilots and for the Wellington airport.”

The airport runway project has been on the city of Wellington’s agenda for sometime. Former airport director Patrick Hamlin had proposed an airport expansion as far back as 2011 and it has been planned within the City of Wellington budget.

Of course, it being the government, there have been delays. FAA has put it on the back-burner for a couple of years for various reasons. But now it is a go… finally.

Without FAA funding the project would be impossible. The project itself is going to cost $2.6 million and will include two state aviation grants in the process. The price tag for the city is $207,000. It has been a confluence of federal, state and city officials interacting.

“When I brought this proposal to my boss, he told me this has never been done before with so many people involved in this kind of project,” said Merrill Atwater, KDOT Director of Aviation. “Thank goodness he listened.”

The future

The groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday brought out several local and state dignitaries. It was part of a big day in Wellington in which the Cowley College- Sumner Campus ground breaking was held as well.

The new runway is expected to take up most of the space leading up to the old 50th Ave. Subsequently, that road is being moved to the north.

So ultimately, will this project bring in more airport traffic?

“I think that depends on a lot of things,” Jacobs said. “It will depend on whether the airport can supply competitive jet fuel prices, and if it can provide the kind of services other airports are providing. But you can say that with any industry.”

Jacobs continues.

“What it does do, is it puts the Wellington Airport into the game, and do thing it couldn’t do before.”

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