Main runway at Waukesha County Airport to close until August

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

May 1, 2015

 Aircraft at a hangar at the Waukesha County Airport on Wednesday.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - Construction trailers are set up and barricades are in place at the Waukesha County Airport, signaling the start of one of the county’s largest building plans of 2015.

A four-phase reconstruction project to the main runway at the airport, also known as Crites Field, will begin this weekend and is set to greatly reduce air traffic in the area through the spring and much of the summer.

The 5,850-foot concrete Runway 10/28, which runs from east to west, is to be shut down for renovations expected to last from Saturday until August 15.

According to county documents, a 15-inch thick section of concrete will be constructed over 9 inches of crushed aggregate base course. That will allow planes weighing up to 100,000 pounds to land at the site, whereas the maximum on the current runway is only 66,000 pounds.

The existing runway is approaching 30 years old and the new reconstruction is expected to last for another 30. Federal Aviation Administration funding will pay for 90 percent of the $11 million project, while the state and Waukesha County will each cover 5 percent.

 A ramp is filled with aircraft on Wednesday at the Waukesha County Airport.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Airport Manager Kurt Stanich said Waukesha-based contractor Zignego Company, Inc. has already taken preparatory steps to ensure construction gets underway as soon as possible on Saturday.

“They have been doing surveying and placing barricades and construction trailers and anything they need,” he said. “So when we do actually shut down the runway, they start immediately on the runway work rather than prepping to begin.”

To avoid any potential delays in the expected completion date, workers will likely be set on multiple shifts and weekends, according to county documents. On top of working overtime, the state has also included “disincentives” in its contract with Zignego that will be assessed if the project falls behind.

Fuel for thought

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled at the site on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m.

When the project was announced last year, some airport tenants expressed concerns about not being able to use the site’s main runway for more than three months.

 A large dump truck sits outside the fence at the Waukesha County Airport on Wednesday. The airport's main runway will be closed for construction.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Airport management worked with the site’s tenants to relocate many of them to other locations during the runway closure.

“Everybody basically has a place to go,” he said. “Some have left the airport already to the alternate locations, but some will be leaving as late as Friday night or Saturday morning.”

Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, as well as airports in the Madison and Janesville areas that can handle the type of operations Crites Field provides, have taken on some of the site’s tenants.

Waukesha County Public Works Director Allison Bussler said while the airport tenants have been inconvenienced, they have remained both understanding and supportive of the project.

 A large dump truck sits outside the fence at the Waukesha County Airport on Wednesday.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

“I think they have used it for long-range planning on their end and there are some really exciting developments coming for businesses at our airport that are going to grow or that are interested in doing a longer term lease with us,” she said.

Fuel sales are also expected to drop during construction because of the limited use of the airport, according to the county’s 2015 budget. But because fuel sales leading up to the closure have been higher than anticipated, it is expected that total fuel revenues this will be comparable to 2014, even with the closure.

The new runway itself will also help alleviate diminished fuel sales. Because its increased size allows for increased aircraft loads, planes will be able to carry and purchase more fuel, which combined with land use accounts for approximately 75 percent of the airport’s annual revenue.

In addition to the main runway, Stanich said county staff will take advantage of the reduced airport traffic to carry out modifications to the terminal building and the control tower.

According to the 2015 capital projects plan, the county has set aside $540,000 for upgrades to those two buildings, and another $140,000 to complete a ramp expansion.

Some closures of smaller runway

The airport’s smaller Runway 18/36 will also undergo a few short-term closures from June 1 to June 21 due to the available length of runway that could render it unusable for some flyers during that time.

While airport usage will be extremely limited during those three weeks, Bussler said the airport may not be completely shut down.

“On June 13 we are having a ‘Lighter Than Air’ event at the airport, which is some hot air balloons and remote controlled airplanes,” she said. “There are going to be a few events at that time, but it will be very, very limited operations.”

The project reconstruction has already led to canceling the 2015 Wings Over Waukesha air show, normally held in August. But Stanich said Flight For Life Emergency Medical Transport, which flies out of the Waukesha airport, will not be affected.

Even with the extended runway closure and building construction, Stanich said the airport will remain open and fully staffed by its regular county employees: “We are going to be busy as ever.”


Businesses to be affected by airport work

 WAUKESHA - On Friday, Stein’s Aircraft Services will relocate the majority of the fleet it houses at the Waukesha County Airport to Kenosha ahead of temporary closures that will start Saturday.

Owner Laurie Stein said the seven planes that will be taken to Kenosha will return when the work is completed. She said her company is committed to Crites Field and recently was made a fixed-base operator in Waukesha.

Stein’s Aircraft Services, LLC is a privately-held multi-service aviation company that specializes in aircraft management, maintenance, consulting and acquisition, chartering and flight training. The plane used by Stein’s for charter flights will remain in Waukesha until the intersection of the runways is under construction and will then be taken to Kenosha for about a month.

“It will be an inconvenience our clients to drive to Kenosha to get to their airplanes,” Stein said. “No matter when it was going to be done it was going to be painful and an inconvenience.”

She said the work will make the Waukesha County Airport better.

Other area companies operate planes out of hangars in Waukesha, including Quad/Graphics and Fabco Equipment Inc., neither of which returned calls for comment Wednesday.

-Katherine Michalets, Freeman Staff