• February 19, 2019

County airport infrastructure in need of improvement - Odessa American: Ector County

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County airport infrastructure in need of improvement

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Posted: Monday, February 11, 2019 5:30 am

Damaged taxiways remain a concern at Schlemeyer Field Airport in Ector County.

Highways and Streets Department Director Evans Kessey described a section of the taxiway pavement as being cracked and in very poor condition.

Ector County Commissioners approved a budget amendment in August 2018 that made a portion of annual TxDOT Routine Airport Maintenance Program grant funds available for taxiway asphalt repair. The grant administered by TxDOT’s aviation division matches local government grants by 50 percent up to $50,000.

Kessey said that about half of the most recent funds were used to repair a 38,500-square-yard section of taxiway at the end of August, but he said there is still more work to be done.

Public Works Project Manager David Peck said the TxDOT RAMP grant is a primary way that taxiway sections are given attention. He said the use-it-or-lose-it funds allow the county to skip the formal bidding process which can add up to three months to a project. The catch is it comes with a financial cap of $100,000 for projects.

“It’s been a lot of patchwork,” Peck said. “Ideally I’d have them all redone, but in reality we’re going to have to do what we can afford.”

Peck said he was unable to confirm what amount of taxiway was in need of attention or the estimated cost of rebuilding or resurfacing until the area is surveyed. He confirmed taxiways have not received any major resurfacing since at least 2008. Kessey said cost estimates will vary depending on the nature of the cracks and the taxiway’s condition.

“Most of them need some work,” Peck said, “kind of like our road network; some are in better shape than others. We’re assessing which ones are worse that way we can make a game plan.”

Ector County Airport Advisory Board Chairman Winston Kenworthy said they are awaiting grants before they begin on any projects that would involve repairing the taxiway. Kenworthy was not sure of what the price tag would entail but he said it would be expensive.

Once the taxiway is assessed, Peck hopes to bring an estimate to commissioners for next year’s budget. He said if grants are unavailable for the project the county will have to rely on any remaining funds in the airport’s budget.

Millions of dollars have been poured into airport upkeep, including about half of an $8.7 million debt issued by commissioners in 2015 for runway improvements, but the taxiways are usually given crumbs as other areas have been deemed more of an immediate need. Ector County Auditor David Austin said in 2017 the county spent about $1.9 million on repairing runways.

“It’s a process, there’s always something that can be improved at the airport,” Kenworthy said. “We have lighting that needs to be replaced, we need to replace (obsolete) hangars and the whole ramp on the north end needs to be replaced because it has really big cracks.”

Kenworthy said there are two ways that cracked pavement can negatively affect an airplane. He said the first concern is if the damage expands to a point that wheels of small aircraft can fall into the cracked pavement. Kessey said last year in August the airport reported a few flat tires from aircraft prior to the partial taxiway repair.

“The other way that aircraft is affected is if the asphalt is coming loose, flies up and gets into the engine and propellers,” Kenworthy said. “It can do hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. We need to maintain good asphalt.”

Kenworthy said there was a period of time more than a decade ago that Schlemeyer Field was losing turboprop aircraft and jets to Midland International Airport because “they couldn’t take the chance of asphalt getting into their engines.” Kenworthy said Schlemeyer Field had limited funds to address a growing list of issues then and still does. He said prioritizing funding to cater to areas of critical need has been the main focus over the years.

He said the airport receives a lot of transient aircraft due to its location between the east and west coast. Peck agreed and said many use Schlemeyer Field as a refueling stop.

Peck said along with leasing out the premise to Wildcatter Aviation for flight operations services, funds for the airport are generated through flow fees at the fuel site. He said Friday that 18 cents for every gallon sold is collected for Schlemeyer Field’s budget. He said more activity at the airport helps recoup costs of maintenance.

Kenworthy said that the runways and taxiways are in better shape now than in years past due to asphalt maintenance efforts, which has helped them bring some of the turbine aircraft back. He said that the airport’s infrastructure has jumped light-years ahead from 10 years ago and has steadily increased the amount of traffic to Schlemeyer Field.

“Most people don’t see the huge amount, millions of dollars, that the airport brings into the community,” Peck said. “We’re looking at around 3,000 arrivals and departures a year or more.”

The 2018 Texas Aviation Economic Impact Study quantified the total impact attributed to airport-related activity across the state. The results showed that Schlemeyer Field gave a total output of about $15 million to the community through direct and multiplier impacts. Direct impacts account for the initial point where money first starts circulating in the economy such as visitor spending at locations such as hotels and restaurants. Multiplier impacts result from the recirculation of that added money into the local economy.

Peck said investing in the airport works in the city’s favor.

Kenworthy said the damaged asphalt now primarily remains in areas where local aircraft rests.

“Where transient aircraft are going we don’t have bad asphalt,” Kenworthy said. “We’ve got taxiways, ramps and runways resurfaced where any transient aircrafts would be. Where we have the bad asphalt is where the local aircraft are on the north end.” He said the board did not aim to leave locals out, but initially repaired areas that benefit the majority.

“The airport just hasn’t had time or money to fix all of it,” he said. “Plans are to get it all fixed but (the most used) taxiways and runways come first.”

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