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Federal grant makes overhaul of airport runway possible

Date: 7/26/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD After nearly three decades, the runway at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport (WBRA) is set for a makeover.

At a press conference on July 22, Congressman Richard Neal announced WBRA as the recipient of an $8.7 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for runway construction.

The remaining funds of the $14 million cost will be supplied through state and local monies in addition to $4.6 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

"I think they're calling attention to the success WBRA has had," Neal said. He cited the addition of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation to the airport a "noteworthy and prominent" achievement.

Brian Barnes, WBRA manager, estimated the project would take 120 days, with construction beginning Aug. 5. He stated that runways generally have a lifespan of 20 years. The WBRA runway is 28 years old, it's in "terrible" condition, he added .

In preparation of the work, the F15s assigned to the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing that are normally stationed at Barnes Air National Guard Base, will relocate temporarily to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod.

Col. Pete Green said, "We're excited to come back here in a couple of months."

He explained that maintaining operations of the 104th will be "extremely difficult" since its members will be stationed at the three bases, but added that all are dedicated to upholding the standards the fighter wing is known for.

Neal said the initiative was successful due to the collaboration among federal, state and local agencies.

He called WBRA a "substantial employer" and said providing construction jobs are an immediate means of putting people "back to work."