OTTUMWA — Excavation of the Ottumwa Regional Airport’s main runway uncovered concrete that was part of the original Navy runway from the 1940s. It’s still there, and will literally form the foundation of the new runway.
Airport Manager Chris Cobler said the original concrete was underneath eight inches of asphalt overlays. The depth was part of the reason reconstruction of the runway was needed. There’s only so far you can go with patching and overlays. Eventually the older layers crumble, removing the support the runway needs.
That’s what had happened to the original concrete.
“One of the great things about this project is we removed the 1940s concrete that was under eight inches of asphalt. That concrete was crushed,” Cobler said. “It is now part of the subgrade. That’s a great part of this project.”
Cobler saw a degree of continuity in pulverizing the concrete and returning it as part of the new runway’s substrate. And, with the Federal Aviation Administration willing to cover 90 percent of the runway’s cost — FAA grants covered more than $6.1 million of the cost — it was too good an opportunity for the city to pass up.
Not all of the work is part of that replacement. The city is extending the runway as well, to a new length of 6,000 feet. “It just puts us in another bracket of being able to land any plane,” Cobler said.
Not all spending is identical, even if the amounts involved are. New facilities, like roads and runways, should last longer without major problems than old ones that are patched or covered up. The new runway will be eight inches deep before reaching the subgrade, providing enough structure to handle planes for a long time.
The reconstruction also includes design features that should help. It should shed water faster than the old runway, allowing it to be cleared of ice faster during the winter and back to dry conditions faster after rain. Pilots, Cobler said, are especially looking forward to that.
Things were quiet on Thursday. The project itself is at a turning point. The subgrade is in place, and paving should begin Monday if all goes as planned. That part of the work will take three or four weeks, with another two or three weeks of electrical work after that to get the lights back up before the runway can be used.
The work has been disruptive, as you would expect with the closure of the airport’s longest runway. The closure was part of the reason Fly Ottumwa took a hiatus in 2019, and some customers moved their airplanes to other sites during the work
But the secondary, shorter runway has stayed open. That allowed Indian Hills to continue flights, and the airport has remained open to aircraft up to the size of smaller jets.
“That was a huge help to Indian Hills, because they fly routinely when the weather permits,” Cobler said.
Construction should wrap up by September, about when the city originally planned for the airport to return to fully functional operations.