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Barnes get grant

By Michelle Kealey

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Congressman John Olver (D-1st Congressional District) recently announced that Westfield Barnes Airport has received a $4.2 federal million grant to upgrade runways and enhance safety features.

Christopher Willenborg, airport manger, explained that the total cost for the upgrades at the airport is $4,227,829. He said that the grant from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) totals $4,016,429, which covers 95 percent of the project costs.

The city is required to pay the remaining 5 percent of the cost. However, Willenborg explained that in Massachusetts, the Aeronautics Commission puts in 2.5 percent of the funding, allowing the city to pay half of the 5 percent.

The city and the Aeronautics Commission will each pay $105,700.

"It is such a large capital expenditure that the city would be unable to undertake this project [alone]," he said.

He added that the upgrades to the airport are "extremely important."

According to Willenborg, there are three major components that will be covered by the grant.

The first is the reconstruction of the taxiway Alpha, which sits in front of the terminal building and parallels runway 1533.

He explained that the last time the pavement on the taxiway has seen construction was in the 1970s.

"Over the years the pavement has deteriorated," he said, adding that there has been some cracking in the pavement.

He added that the taxiway receiving the upgrades is the most heavily used.

Another phase of the project includes the reconstruction of the safety overruns on Runway 220. He explained that an overrun is a safety feature at the end of a runway that exists in the event that an aircraft is unable to stop.

"At the end, there is a paved or grass area that is able to support the aircraft," he said.

According to Willenborg, two lighted wind cones will be installed on each end of Runway 220. He explained that wind cones help pilots see which way the wind is blowing.

He said that although there is a control tower and one wind cone already on Runway 220, the main Runway is two miles long and the wind may be different at each end.

"It is a safety enhancement," he said.

Willenborg said that he has known for a while that the upgrades to the airport were needed.

He explained that the airport submits a five-year capital improvement plan each year to the FAA. He said that the FAA meets with airport officials to discuss the needs of the airport and prioritize the projects.

He said that other projects have completed at the Westfield Barnes Airport with other grants from the FAA.

Some of the projects included a security fence, other pavement upgrades and a new taxiway.

"They all get prioritized through the FAA," he said.

Willenborg said that the amount of the grant given depends on the project and the type of airport. He added that the recent $4.2 million grant is a large grant for a general aviation airport, but "it is a large piece of pavement."

He said that the airport improvement program, is a "great program and a great way of leveraging funds."

He added that the program has been very successful.

Willenborg said that the improvements being made with the grant ties in to the proposed terminal building, which he hopes to break ground on this fall.

He hopes to being the construction on the three upgrades to the airport by the end of June and would like to see it completed sometime in October.

"We have the airshow this year, which takes 10 days out of the construction," Willenborg said. "We have pretty tight deadlines."

Lane Construction, which has offices in Westfield and Meridan Conn.was the lowest bidder and will making the improvements to the airport.

Both Kennedy and Olver believe that the improvements to Westfield Barnes Airport are important.

Olver said, "This grant is excellent news for [Westfield] Barnes Airport, for the city of Westfield and for the entire region. Stricter landing requirements set forth by the FAA two years ago meant that critical upgrades were needed to accommodate private and commercial business at the airport. "This funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation will modernize Barnes [Airport] so the airport can continue to be an asset to the region and the local economy," he said.

Kennedy said, "Barnes is an essential part of the Commonwealth's economy and security. The 9,000 foot runway accommodates any aircraft in the world. Ensuring its safety is a continuing priority. This federal grant will facilitate the improvements needed to comply fully with the current safety standards."