ALAMOSA — Make sure you allocate extra airport time if you're planning on flying Boutique Air soon. San Luis Valley Regional Airport's runway will briefly close on Aug. 21.
The two-day closure will be to change runway markings to kick off the runway rehabilitation project, for which the airport received a $6.4 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration in late July. Boutique Air will fly out of Monte Vista Municipal Airport during all construction closures and a shuttle service between airports will be provided for passengers.
After the initial closure the runway will be reopened and shortened to 4,500 feet. That is short enough for Boutique Air to operate while construction occurs on the other side. However, it is too short for hospital transportation service Eagle Air Med to operate. Kyle Palmer, the company's regional business developer, confirmed on Monday that the adjusted length falls short of their minimum safety requirements by 600 feet. They, too, will use Monte Vista as a temporary home.
It was announced during a preconstruction meeting on Friday that the entire runway will close for 21 days on September 30 while the midsection of the runway is being worked on. That is one week more than the originally planned 14-day closure. Yet, the increased shutdown time allows for the total project to take only 70 days instead of the previous 100.
"We're not confident we can get all of our shoulder work done in 21 days," said Four Corners Materials Project Manager Mike Stengel on Friday. "But we know we can mill it and pave the runway in 21 days."
That shortened timeframe is crucial if officials hope to have the runway operating before the winter. The outside temperature needs to be 40 degrees and rising for paving. Construction workers will be on-site six or seven days a week for roughly 12 hours a day to expedite the process.
Officials will determine if they can proceed after the first phase of displacing the runway threshold, which is estimated to end on September 25.
"We don't want to have a short runway going into the wintertime," said SLV Airport Manager Dust Allinger. "It would be devastating to be shut down, for any portion."
Allinger told the Alamosa County Commissioners during their July 26 meeting that the FAA would fund the construction company's remobilization if it were postponed to the spring. Any project changes have to be approved by the FAA.
"The FAA is paying over 90 percent of this project so it's their rules and their specs," said Jviation Resident Engineer Kevin Scherr.
Workers also have to be mindful of the dust when the airport is active. A water truck will be at the airport to mitigate the issue yet it's possible that heavy dust could still affect construction.
"With high winds sometimes it's a losing battle," said Scherr. "If we have to shut down construction because there's too much dust then that's what we have to do. We're not going to risk a plane coming down into a dust cloud."