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Warren tours long-awaited airport construction

Date: 8/9/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – After nearly three decades, repaving of the runway at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport (WBRA) has begun.

The start of the work commenced Aug. 5 with a visit from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who toured the tarmac along with Richard Sullivan, secretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Jeff Daley, city advancement officer; and Col. James Keefe, commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base.

Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, and Brig. Gen. Gary Keefe of the Massachusetts National Guard, among others also partook in the tour.

“Western Massachusetts is a place that has to build on its strengths. WBRA is one of those strengths – it’s critical to the area,” Warren said.

The $14 million cost of the project is offset by an $8.7 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for runway construction, $4.6 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and by additional state and local monies.

“This is the first official day of construction,” Brian Barnes, WBRA manager, said, adding the preliminary work of setting up barricades and contractor trailers started today.

He anticipated the project would take 120 days to complete. He said that runways generally have a lifespan of 20 years. The WBRA runway is 28-years-old.

“We’ve had a lot of problems, a lot of issues with the runway,” Barnes admitted. He explained that the airport would remain operational during the makeover and that WBRA expects to only have to close for one day to accommodate the process.

According to Barnes, planes would utilize the 5,000-foot cross-runway during the construction. He added the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation operations would not be impacted because the runway does support the majority of large corporate aircraft such as the Gulfstream G4. Despite a weight restriction waiver, that segment of landing strip cannot accommodate the F15s of the fighter wing.

Keefe said that the afterburner blast of the F15s was “tearing up the asphalt.”

To accommodate that effect, a 3,000-foot center portion of the runway will be “peeled out” and replaced with concrete, Barnes stated.

“My whole Senate campaign was about the need to invest in the future. This is a prime example of leaders making investments for the long run,” Warren said.

The 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts National Guard, is equipped with the F15 Eagle. One of several missions of the 104th is Aerospace Control Alert, providing armed fighters ready to scramble in a moment’s notice to protect the Northeast from any airborne threat. The unit is responsible for protecting a quarter of the nation’s population and one third of the gross domestic product.

During the construction, the F15s assigned to the fighter wing are relocated to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod.