Ruined Runway Reopens

By Steve Ramirez, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

Jun. 29–LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A Las Cruces International Airport runway reopened Thursday after being closed for more than 34 months after a U.S. Air Force cargo plane created ruts on it during a 2004 presidential campaign stop by President Bush.

“This is a really great day for the airport,” said airport manager Lisa Murphy. “It’s been sorely missed by the pilots. The airport is now fully operational again.”

Runway 4-22, one of three at the airport, has been repaired at a cost of $1.25 million. The 7,503-foot runway was closed on Aug. 26, 2004, when a heavily weighted Air Force C-17 cargo plane caused 2-inch ruts on the runway as it backed up moments before departure.

Heat that day softened the runway’s pavement, and city officials claimed the plane was overloaded with equipment and vehicles. The runway was designed to handle weight up to 120,000 pounds, but pilots who regularly use the airport said the runway was not capable of handling such a large plane.

City officials claimed that Air Force pilots and Bush’s campaign were warned before landing that the runway wasn’t capable of handling the plane. But an Air Force spokesman said the pilot received permission to land.

Pilots of smaller planes have been critical of the length of time it has taken to repair the runway, which traverses from northeast to southwest.

Assistant City Manager Robert Garza said inclement weather prevented the runway from opening sooner but added that patience has paid off.

“We have a project that is now essentially brand new,” Garza said.

Jerry Cordova, senior design engineer for the city, agreed.

“It’s what’s called a Super Pave, which fully meets FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements,” Cordova said. “The runway surface consists of a performance-graded asphalt, which means it fits the climate and the primary functions it’s designed for. It’s tailored to meet those needs and should last a long time, 20-plus years with good maintenance.” Because of its configuration, the runway is designated as crosswind runway.

That’s vital for smaller planes, especially during strong spring winds.

“Larger planes, because of their size, are better able to handle crosswinds,” said Doug Newton, general manager of Adventure Aviation, a major airport tenant. “But about 40 percent of air traffic in and out of this airport comes from smaller planes. Reopening this runway is very important.” Newton was the first pilot to take off and land on the new runway, and received applause from the small crowd that gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Jo Asprey, owner of Adventure Aviation, said the economic benefits to the city of reopening the runway could be significant.

“In the time we’ve been out here at the airport we’ve gone from selling 100,000 gallons of fuel in a year to 1 1/2 million gallons,” Asprey said.

“Traffic has increased dramatically out here and it’s only going to get better with the runway open again. Las Cruces and aviation are becoming more important, especially for corporate air travel.” The cost of repairing the runway includes a $603,754 settlement the Air Force paid to the city for damages to the runway.


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Copyright (c) 2007, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

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