Aviation industry concerned about rural runway conditions
The runway at Galena’s airport, formerly used by the U.S. Air Force, was found to have an overall pavement condition index rating of 58 in a July 2012 Department of Transportation and Public Facilities inspection report. The rating — below state and federal standards — means the runway qualifies for surface rehabilitation. Improving rural runways is a priority for the Alaska Air Carriers Association, but federal funding cuts could impeded those efforts.
Alaska’s tie to the airplane cannot be understated. With airplanes come airports, and airport maintenance. Joy Journey, executive director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association said she is concerned about the health of the state’s airports.
“The reality in Alaska is the (airport) infrastructure built by federal monies and there is not sufficient state money allocated to maintain the infrastructure,” she said.
Journey said nearly all airport upgrades in the state are funded with federal money. She said the State needs to take responsibility for its airports because of the uncertainties surrounding federal spending.
In Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed capital budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, $26 million in State money is set to match a $191 million federal contribution to the Airport Improvement Program. A total of $6.2 million is proposed for the Rural Airport Safety Improvement and Aviation Deferred Maintenance programs.
Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Statewide Aviation Division Operations Manager Mike Coffey said if federal money were cut, current operations would be a challenge.
Current State operations are not adequate, according to Journey.
What Journey called “the deterioration of Alaska’s airports” has been the association’s top issue of contention for nearly 10 years, she said.
The Alaska Air Carriers Association, or AACA, legislative priorities report for 2013 states that collectively, paved runway conditions in the North and Central airport regions delineated by the DOT&PF are “drastically below federal minimum standards.”
“We recognize there is a need to go out there and upgrade pavements,” Coffey said.
Coffey said a rating 70 out of 100 on the FAA’s pavement condition index, or PCI, is considered a “target” rating for a paved runway. A PCI is the result of an inspection to determine a runway’s condition. Coffey said a rating below 70 indicates major maintenance is necessary on a runway and a rating below 60 usually means “pavement rehabilitation,” is in order.
In recent years $20 million to $30 million has been allocated for paved runway maintenance, Coffey said.
Pavement rehabilitation involves smoothing a runway’s surface by overlaying the existing surface to bring the PCI up to 100. Conditions warranting a resurfacing include “pavement distresses such as depressions, swells, raveling and high-severity cracks,” according to a DOT&PF inspection report published in July 2012.
There is no condition evaluation system in place for gravel airstrips, Journey said. DOT&PF operates rural 54 airports with paved runways throughout the state. The State operates a total of 253 rural airports.
While DOT&PF uses PCI numbers as a part of its maintenance evaluations, Coffey said the rating is subjective.
“We try to look at pavements holistically — you can’t look at just a PCI number,” he said. “A PCI number acceptable to Point Hope is different than what’s acceptable to Anchorage International.”
The Transportation Department report found that 19 percent of the total state-owned paved runway area in the state’s Central region had a PCI of at least 70; in the Northern region it was 16 percent; and in the Southeast region 25 percent of paved runway area met targeted guidelines. According to the inspection, 8 percent of municipal-owned paved runway area had a PCI of 70.
Journey said AACA’s goal is to make sure airport surfaces are safe for everyone using them.
Coffey said maintenance and improvement projects are prioritized by the State Aviation Project Evaluation Board, or APEB, to effectively manage DOT&PF money. He said airport managers and air carrier companies are all consulted when determining which airports require the most urgent maintenance. Any reports of safety issues always receive the highest priority, Coffey said.
APEB is a six-member board of DOT&PF aviation officials.
APEB uses 16 weighted criteria categories to prioritize infrastructure projects at state-owned airports. Safety and security concerns; the ability of a community to help fund a project or take airport ownership; area transportation alternative options are the most heavily weighted factors.
Roger Maggard, who is an airport development manager for DOT&PF said it’s important to remember who is using an airport when determining where maintenance funding should be allocated.
“An airport serving (Boeing) 737 aircraft definitely takes precedence over one used by single-engine aircraft,” he said.
DOT&PF is in the process of implementing a Transportation Asset Management System so all relevant Department systems can communicate better on any project, airport or otherwise, Coffey said.
“As we develop the (Transportation Asset Management System), I think that really does give us that holistic view of how to best use the resources we have, both financial and personnel,” he said. “It’s a trade-off analysis. If we put money to these projects but not these, here’s the impact.”
State operations are a “customer service-driven,” Coffey said, and Airport Division officials recently met with several air carrier companies to better understand industry needs and views. He said plans are for similar meetings to be held three times every year.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at email@example.com.