In its last Federal Aviation Administration inspection, Anniston’s airport was cited for its faded runway markings and for a less-than-smooth safety zone on the north side of the runway. The runway markings citation was not a surprise to airport authorities, said Toby Bennington, Anniston city planner. The safety zone citation was.
The inspections are annual, but the problem was not caught in the past probably because of taller grass, Bennington said.
The safety zone is an area next to the runway that is kept smooth and level so that if an airplane leaves the runway for any reason, it has a safe area along which to coast. At the Anniston airport, the safety zone has some ditches and ruts. The FAA is requiring the area be graded.
It’s a precaution that, to his knowledge, the airport has never had to use, said Scott Wallace, general manager of fixed base operations at the airport. Still, the safety zone is a federal requirement.
Ryan Reed, project manager for Garver, which has been working on the construction projects at the airport, said the work is up for bid. The bid opening is July 28 and work could begin sometime in November. Reed thinks the airport has a good chance of getting a FAA funding to pay for most of it.
“It seems very likely,” Reed said. “It’s driven by safety and by their own agency.”
The runway marking should take no more than 10 days to complete and the grading work should take no more than 30 days to complete. However, the airport would have to be closed while the work is in progress, putting some pressure on the airport budget.
“It’ll put a major hit on us, any closure,” said Earlon McWhorter, the principal owner of Anniston Aviation, the fixed base operator which handles gasoline sales at the airport. “It’s not just the FBO (fixed base operator) and our fuel sales, it’s also the community.…We’re putting a constraint on the whole community.”
More than 30,000 landings occur at the airport annually. That figure includes private, chartered and business planes as well as military traffic, said David Otwell, former manager of the airport.
The airport could reopen if it had notice of a need from the military, for example, but work would have to stop for the day, something that could delay the repairs.
Reed suggested an addendum to the bid, requesting the work be done from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., which would allow the airport to continue operating during daylight hours.
FAA grants are awarded after the bids are received. The FAA has funding limits it wants met, but doesn’t always share those with the airport authorities bidding out the projects. That makes it important to keep the bids as low as possible, Reed said.
“Anytime we start to increase our price, you run the risk of crossing some imaginary line that they haven’t let us know about,” Reed said. “We all understand there’s going to be a certain amount of inconvenience but when the dust settles we’ve got a better airport,” Otwell said. “It needs to be done.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.