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New runway could land competition





Hays Regional Airport's upgraded landing strip might woo additional commercial airliners other than Great Lakes Airlines.

The airport had a ribbon-cutting Monday to celebrate the renovated runway. Approximately 80 city and airport employees and community members attended the program.

The Federal Aviation Administration paid for 90 percent of the $6,872,026 project, and local funds covered the rest, said I.D. Creech, the city's director of public works. Upgrades included repaving the concrete, fresh paint, new signage/navigational aids and lighting, and an improved drainage area, he said.

David Hadel, project manager at Burns & McDonnell, said the 6,500-foot runway was made 4 inches deeper to accommodate larger aircraft.

"The 9 inches of concrete will allow heavier aircraft to use the runway," Hadel said. "And by that, means you'll have the potential for larger commercial airlines to come into the airport."

The project took approximately three years through the design, bidding process, two FAA shutdowns and construction, Hadel said.

Creech said he hopes the update makes more commercial airlines consider Hays. There is an upcoming opportunity to evaluate the airport's relationship with Great Lakes because its contract expires in April, he said.

The Essential Air Service program, an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, has Great Lakes servicing Hays. One hundred and sixty-three rural communities nationwide receive the same arrangement with other carriers, according to the department's website.

Bids for the new contract went out earlier this month, and they will be returned Dec. 2, Creech said.

The department will consider the bids for 30 to 60 days, and if it chooses a new carrier, it will start May 2014, Creech said.

The terminal's airline carrier has struggled with delayed and canceled flights, Creech said. Great Lakes has a 58-percent on-time arrival rate at the airport, but it has been as high as the 70-percent range in prior years, Creech said.

Charles R. Howell IV, Great Lakes' chief executive officer, said many of the delays can be attributed to the airport's recent construction.

Mayor Kent Steward said the runway construction is a demonstration of the city's obligation to provide adequate infrastructure. The upgrades might open the door to a different kind of service, he said.

"The service we've gotten from Great Lakes has not been even basically adequate," Steward said. "Some of that may be beyond their control. I don't have any interest in trying beating up on them, but it's just a fact."

Michelle Fairbank, director of resident life at Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School, said her coworker recently experienced a setback traveling with Great Lakes.

"Unfortunately, she can't come home tomorrow because her flight's been canceled, so she's going to be stuck in Denver when she gets back from a 15-day in Asia," Fairbank said.

Tammy Wellbrock, executive director of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, said the update provides the airport opportunities for growth. The terminal can reap a financial reward for facility upgrades if it reaches a certain benchmark for the number of passengers on departing planes, she said.

"The impact this will have, though, on the airport will hopefully ensure us to be able to reach our annual 10,000 boarding, which can equate to $1 million in federal funding," Wellbrock said.