Tuolumne County Airports Manager Benedict Stuth said a $3.9 million taxi lane repair and construction project restarting at Columbia Airport in the next few months will allow the commercial and private aircraft hub to continue operating for the next 20 years.
“When it comes down to it, the most important issue of getting projects is, without pavement we wouldn’t have the hangars. Without hangars, we wouldn’t have the planes. Without the planes you wouldn’t have access to the airspace which drives commerce and business,” Stuth said. “You need those movement surfaces for the airport to continue to operate and function.”
The pavement reclamation project began in November, but has been on hiatus through the winter. The project is set to restart on April 1 and continue through September.
The project will be phased and will repair nine of the 13 taxi lanes at the Columbia Airport. Some of the taxi lanes have a Pavement Condition Index rating of 12 out of 100, and are riddled with transverse and longitudinal cracking, warping, and alligator cracking, or a spider web of cracks resembling reptile scales.
“If you see them individually, the pavement may need some rehabilitative maintenance, but not much. If you see them all together, the pavement could be failing or near failing,” Stuth said.
The taxi lanes connect parking aprons and hangars to the four main taxiways at Columbia Airport. Those taxiways then connect to the runway.
The four other taxi lanes without construction work are in good enough condition so that they do not need to be reconstructed or rehabilitated, Stuth said.
Most of the taxi lanes in the project have a rating of 12, while others range from a PCI of 50 to 70. Any piece of pavement that has a PCI below 80 qualifies for the project, Stuth said.
The project is 90 percent funded through a Federal Aviation Administration grant called the Taxi Lane Rehabilitation and Reconstruction project, with the remaining 10 percent coming via matching funds from the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics and the county.
$3.4 million of the costs will go to the construction, and the remainder toward third party quality control and staff administration costs.
During the project, 91,000 square feet of taxi lanes in the main hangar area will be reconstructed. Concurrently, there will be concrete repair and rehabilitation of the main terminal area and minor pavement rehabilitation at the newest airport hangars. The final phase in July through September will rehabilitate three additional taxi lanes.
The project will divert the 53rd annual Columbia Airport Father’s Day Fly-In to the grass field at Columbia Airport. The event will be held on Father’s Day weekend, June 15 and 16.
Stuth said it will be the first time that the main field would not be used for the event, but event organizers still plan to have aerial demonstrations and airplane rides.
The event is billed as a “wings and wheels” event, he added, and will also include over 200 show cars, 100 motorcycles, a dance in the large hangar next to the grass airfield, and food vendors.
“Everything is going to be completely mowed and taken care of before anybody is out there,” Stuth said.
Columbia Airport is eligible for federal funding because it is included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems and classified as a regional general aviation airport.
Stuth said 47,000 operations, the total number of arrivals and takeoffs, occur annually there.
“For every plane landing there has to be a plane takeoff,” he said, noting that it was “not a perfect science” because sometimes aircraft could be stored at the airport for long periods of time.
The Airport Master Plan estimates that the number will increase to about 50,400 by 2020. The total is made up of 27,300 itinerant operations from out of area aircraft and 23,100 local operations.
The majority of landings at the airport come from Cal Fire, military aircraft, business aircraft (or air taxis flying for hire) and general aviation (private aircraft).
The airport is considered an enterprise fund in the county budget, which means, for the most part, the revenue it generates pays for the cost of operations.
Revenues for the current fiscal year that began July 1 are estimated about $566,141, of which about $209,220 will go to the salaries and benefits of the airport’s four employees, Stuth said. Expenses include building improvements, maintenance, professional services and payroll services such as unemployment insurance, disability payments and the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax.
Stuth said the majority of the airport’s revenues come from hangar rents, tie-down rents, landing fees from Cal Fire, and fees on fuel sales from Bald Eagle Aviation.
He said he hopes additional repairs to airport facilities in buildings will come in the future.
“It’s an ongoing issue that we are tackling methodically, one at a time and as budget permits.”