Design work on the Manhattan Regional Airport runway renovation project has passed 60 percent completion, says outgoing Director Jesse Romo.

“The [federal]infrastructure bill did pass […] late Friday night,” Romo said to Manhattan’s Airport Advisory Board Monday. “So hopefully with that came enough funding in the FAA that they will feel a lot better about making sure they participate at 90/10 for the runway project and not just try and cap the grant.”

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The runway project has been in the works for years, with the 40-year-old surface seeing signs of erosion. A 2019 report indicated the runway is 20 years past its projected lifespan. Overall, it’s estimated at a $54.5 million price tag with Manhattan picking up about $6 million of the cost.

The Federal Aviation Administration has typically provided funding for such local airport projects at a 90/10 split, taking up the lion’s share of the cost, and prioritizing projects based on funding levels approved by congress. In 2019, though, FAA standards changed and Romo was informed that only 100 feet of the 150 foot wide would be eligible for funding based on civilian aircraft traffic statistics at MHK even prior to COVID-19 impacts.

Rebuilding the runway at that 100 foot width would have limited service for K-State Athletics and military charter flights given those aircrafts’ size. A Department of Defense grant secured in 2021 provided about 90 percent of the cost of the 50 feet not covered by the FAA. All things considered, Romo says the current split for the whole project is 89/11.

Romo estimates design work should wrap early 2022 with bids on construction opening in April. Board member Carl Reed questioned whether the FAA would budge on funding if bids came in higher than current cost estimates.

“I have no doubt in my mind that bids are going to come in a lot higher than we thought,” Reed says. “You can’t buy anything now, manufacturing or anything, that’s like it should be.”

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Romo says the exact price will become more solidified as they get further in planning and open for bids, and that there’s a window in May in which they can submit for funding at the fully realized project cost. He says not to expect word on the funding level from the FAA until they receive their grant letter in May.

The entire project should last in the realm of a year, with the actual construction aspect taking an estimated four months during which air service will be impacted.

“That’s because once you execute you’re purchasing materials, you’re staging,” Romo says. “There’s a lot of other activities that go into it as well as the wrap up at the end.”

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Romo, though, notes they’ve had recent experience with service at Manhattan Regional Airport being drastically impacted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re able to look back at 2020 and baseline that and have estimations on how much does it hurt when airline service isn’t at the airport.”

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As construction approaches in likely 2023, Romo says the airport will face a challenge but was hopeful that administration has a better understanding of what to expect.

Multiple on the board also congratulated Romo and wished him well in his new role at the helm of Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport and Col. James Jabara Airport. In his final meeting with the board, Romo voiced support for Assistant Director Brandon Keazer to step into the interim director job.

“We’ve grown up together through these last six plus years of building out the programs we have,” Romo says. “Brandon’s been at my side through the entire thing. Through the entire runway project, Brandon has been a part of it — no one knows the operations of aircraft at the airport better than Brandon does.”

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The board was eager to agree, many chiming in to offer a motion of support for Keazer and airport administration. The motion passed unanimously.

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