The Federal Aviation Administration is requesting the city of Mitchell to meet additional requirements to continue its quest of reconstructing the airport runway, slowing down the plans for upgrades.
Brooke Edgar, a professional engineer with Helms & Associates, provided the Mitchell City Council with more details regarding the FAA requirements during Monday's meeting at City Hall, which includes developing a master plan and hiring an additional environmental consultant firm. Helms & Associates is the engineering consultant the city chose for the runway reconstruction project.
“Quite a while ago, we started looking at the runway and it’s time for it to get reconstructed given the condition it is in,” Edgar said. “But there are some FAA requirements that need to be met for us to move forward.”
Edgar presented some background information on the Mitchell Airport's runway. Edgar broke down the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) process, which helps determine the condition of the runway’s pavement. According to Edgar, determining the PCI is based off a 0-100 numerical system.
“The typical number the 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 said. 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.
Edgar said the additional and somewhat unexpected FAA requirement the consulting firm came up against recently centered around the airport’s runway ends potentially causing pilot confusion. Because the runway ends at the Mitchell Airport are closely aligned, Edgar said the FAA requested a master plan for the reconstruction project to move forward.
“The FAA requested us to take a step back and make a master plan to make sure we are doing everything we can to avoid creating pilot confusion,” Edgar said, noting a master plan could be completed in one year.
Edgar referenced two airports with confusing runways that contributed to plane crashes, which took place in Aberdeen and Lexington, Kentucky.
While Edgar said Mitchell’s airport rarely experiences two aircrafts landing at the same time, a master plan would greatly reduce potential crashes taking place on the runway. To her knowledge, Edgar said there haven’t been any plane crashes at the Mitchell Airport caused by the runway.
Edgar said the FAA's requirement of asking the city to hire an additional environmental consulting firm would focus on planning and environmental services in relation to the runway project.
“We recommend the city to go with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, because they do an annual paved maintenance project that makes sure the existing pavement is maintained and doesn't fall below any thresholds,” Edgar said. “There are some larger cracks on the pavement that could use a surface treatment to get it by until the master plan is ready to go.”