An effort is underway to upgrade the Pangborn Airport runway so it can handle 737 size jets. 

The Chelan Douglas Port Authority owns the airport and is faced with the reality that the runway has outlived its useful life and must be rehabbed to stay in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifications. 

The Port hired a consultant, Ardurra, to come up a plan for the rehab project. 

In a presentation before Port Authority commissioners, Ardurra representatives offered the options of renovating the runway or completely rebuilding it.  

Renovation would consist of a pavement overlay at a cost of $18 million and would add about 10 years to the life of the existing runway. Completely rebuilding the runway would cost roughly $30 million and provide a much longer-term lifespan.  

Neither option changed the configuration of the runway. 

Port commissioners became concerned during the presentation that the options did not include widening the runway from 100 feet to 150 feet. 

Commissioners spent roughly 45-minutes discussing the need to have the wider dimension because it’s required to handle operation of 737 aircraft. 

Port CEO Jim Kuntz pointed out that the 150-foot width will be critically necessary to maintain commercial airline service to Wenatchee. 

"It's not coming tomorrow," said Kuntz. "It's probably not coming next year, but all the trends in the industry is larger aircraft will be serving rural markets." 

The airport currently gets two daily flights to and from Seattle through an Alaska Airlines subsidiary using Embraer 175 jet aircraft, which can operate on a 100-foot-wide runway. 

The E-175 holds 76 passengers, and it's getting more difficult to cover increasing costs, such as higher pilot and flight attendant wages, with ticket sales limited to 76. 

Kuntz said the higher costs mean airlines will eventually ditch smaller aircraft in favor of bigger 737s that can spread the cost over 123 people. 

Most of the funding for the runway renovation will come from federal grants through the FAA. 

So far, the FAA has been resistant to subsidizing the cost of the wider configuration because there’s no current demand for 737 service at Pangborn Airport.  

But the FAA has already subsidized the other elements needed for 737 service. 

The runway was lengthened in 2016 to 7,000 feet at a cost of $30 million. 

In addition, the airport's 95,000-square-foot asphalt apron was replaced over the past two summers with 160,000 square feet of more durable concrete, which gives the airport space to park aircraft as large as a 737. The project had a $12 million price tag. 

Further, the airport's taxiway was recently enlarged to dimensions so that it can handle 737s at a cost of $20 million. 

Kunz said the Port is going back to the FAA to negotiate for funding to widen the runway to 150 feet, whether it be to renovate or rebuild the structure. 

Port commissioners were adamant in their 45-minute discussion that a runway capable of handling a 737-size airplane is necessary moving forward.  

The consultant, Ardurra, was given clear instruction to figure the cost of reconstruction or renovation of the runway at 150 feet and determine what the Port’s cost would be if the FAA declines provide the additional funding. 

Ardurra will come back to the Port in the next several weeks with its findings. 

Kuntz said a determination on what to do will need to be made quickly because the runway rehab project is on a tight schedule. 

“The goal is to get design going now, so we have it designed” Kuntz. “We plan to be out to bid by the end of the year. This would be a construction that would happen spring, summer or fall in 2025. So, we’ve got to get going on the design.” 

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