Aviation safety begins from the ground up. At Aniak, in Alaska, USA, that means moving the entire 6,000-foot-long runway to better safeguard the local strong community.
It’s a $38-million project in rural Southwest Alaska, where air traffic is the community’s main connection to the rest of the world.
Aniak is 318 miles west of Anchorage and sits on an island formed by the Kuskokwim River, Aniak Slough, and Aniak River. As with most Alaskan communities, no roads connect Aniak with neighbouring villages or the outside world.
The Stantec-led project will correct safety issues outside of the airport boundaries but within the runway’s object free area and primary surface. The airport is owned and operated by the State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Central Region (DOT&PF) and classified as a regional airport by the Alaska Aviation System Plan, and a postal hub by the United States Postal Service.
Aniak’s existing single runway (Runway 11-28) is a paved, 6,000-foot-long by 150-foot-wide runway. Since 2005, the gateway has been under a Letter of Correction from the Federal Aviation Administration to address penetrations to the runway’s 800-foot wide object free area (OFA).
The runway object free area is a clear zone beyond the extent of the runway safety area. The airport’s runway safety areas beyond the ends of the runway are also too short.
Aniak’s OFA extends over the airport’s north boundary into the old portion of the City of Aniak. Obstructions to the OFA include Aniak’s power plant, private homes, the airport perimeter fence, Boundary Avenue, and multiple on-airport buildings.
To resolve these issues, Stantec led the design of a new runway that is actually shorter and narrower but, crucially, safer. Airport design started in late 2014 and construction started this spring, with completion anticipated for October 2019.
The runway-shift project will ‘right-size’ the runway for the current fleet mix at the airport. In the past, Aniak had been served by B727 and B737s, although today’s air carriers operate smaller Dash-8s, Beech 1900s, Saab 2000s, and Cessna Caravans to meet passenger demand.
The ‘right size’ runway for those aircraft is 5,400-feet by 100-feet. Cargo carriers can continue to operate B737s, DC-6s, DC-9s, and MD-80 jets normally requiring a 150-foot-wide runway, but the airport’s current and 20-year forecast operations do not reach the 500-regular operations threshold to justify the wider runway.
Shifting the single runway at an airport like Aniak is essentially a complete relocation project. Work includes shifting the runway 260 feet south of the existing runway; Constructing turnaround taxiways at each runway end to accommodate the larger jet traffic and improve operations at the airport; removing the old DOT&PF maintenance facility, FAA shop, and four Alaska State Trooper buildings; and Navaid relocation of the airports ILS system, AWOS, and MALSF system to better withstand flooding and ice damage from the Kuskokwim River.
In addition, the project involves replacing the Vertical Approach Slope Indicators with a new Precision Approach Path Indicator; Relocation of Boundary Avenue at the Runway 11 end to accommodate the longer runway safety area; Tree clearing within the airspace; New fencing to improve safety; Relocation of 7,200 feet of power line and 640 feet of sewer line; Repaving the apron; and Improving drainage around the airport.
During construction, access to the community will be maintained by keeping the existing runway operational until the new runway is ready, then the existing runway will be removed.
Due to the proximity of the two runways, most of the construction work will take place at night to keep from interfering with airport operations.