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Future upgrades at Mitchell's airport to make way for safer runways

Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said a deadly crash occurred in 1984 at Aberdeen’s airport due to a conjoined runway similar to Mitchell’s existing layout.

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Planes line up waiting their turn before take off on Sunday morning to compete in the AirVenture Cup cross-country air race starting at the Mitchell airport going east and and finishing at the Wausau Downtown Airport in Wisconsin. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Matt Gade
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City officials are in the process of improving Mitchell’s airport to make for a safer experience for aircrafts.

To avoid a potential crash on the runways, Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said a team of engineers are working on a design that will decouple the runways. As of now, Mitchell’s airport, located on the north end of the city, has two runways that conjoin near the airport building.

“The runway needs to be replaced anyway, so the timing works out for decoupling,” he said.

Schroeder said a deadly crash occurred in 1984 at Aberdeen’s airport due to a conjoined runway similar to Mitchell’s existing layout. The pilot took the wrong runway to lift off into the air and crashed into a nearby fence and ditch, resulting in three fatalities on board the plane.

“Our runway is kind of set up in a way for that scenario to happen, so it’s a big project for us to get completed,” Schroeder said, noting the decoupling project will reach the design phase in the near future.

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With the airport master plan underway, Schroeder said it will move the city closer to reconstruct the runway with fresh new surfacing to handle more planes and begin design work for decoupling the runways. While Mitchell’s airport is relatively small, he said it continues to see a growing number of aircrafts utilize it, especially during fall hunting seasons.

Aberdeen-based Helms and Associates is the engineering firm designing the airport master plan. During a recent city council meeting , Brooke Edgar, a professional engineer with Helms and Associates, said Mitchell’s airport rarely experiences two aircrafts landing at the same time.

Edgar said there haven’t been any plane crashes at the Mitchell Airport caused by the runway. But she noted the set up could create pilot confusion.

A major facet of the master plan includes reconstructing the aging pavement of the runways.

The Pavement Condition Index (PCI) process helps determine the condition of the runway’s pavement, which is based on a 0-100 numerical system. According to Edgar, the runway CPI is at 63.

“The typical number the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t like to see at a runway for safety reasons is anything below 60 PCI,” Edgar said. “The runway here in Mitchell is at 63 PCI, so we’re at that point where we need to start getting the design ready to rebuild that runway.”

The concrete pavement of the airport runway dates back to 1942, while some of the asphalt was installed in 1975, Edgar noted. Considering the aging asphalt and pavement, Edgar said both surfaces have held up well over the years at the former Mitchell Army Airfield, which was first built in 1937.

“It was done well, and it has stood the test of time, but it’s time to start fixing that up,” Edgar said.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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