Local News

Sitka flights reduced during runway repair

Runway? What runway? An Alaska Airlines 737-800 approaches the Rocky Gutierrez Airport. (Flickr photo/Jonathan Caves)

Runway? What runway? An Alaska Airlines 737-800 approaches the Rocky Gutierrez Airport. (Flickr photo/Jonathan Caves)


Sitka will miss two Alaska Airlines flights a day during the month of May, in order to allow a paving contractor to replace the runway at the Rocky Gutierrez Airport.

Flight 70, which arrives from Juneau at around 11 PM every night, and Flight 73, which departs at 6 AM the next morning with the same plane, have been suspended as of this week, and will resume sometime around Memorial Day weekend.Only the airport terminal building is the property of Sitka. The airport runway, taxi areas, and ramp are owned and maintained by the state Department of Transportation.

DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says May has the right combination of decent weather and lighter traffic to accommodate the work.

“The overlay is basically asphalt on the runway. The reason there’s a nighttime closure, and the reason it’s delaying the Alaska Airlines flight is that the construction company needs a long enough window to be able to pave the runway and then allow it to set.”

The contractor has been on site since April, hauling gravel and setting up paving equipment. Woodrow says work will begin each evening following the departure of Flight 67 at about 6:20 PM.

There is one major circumstance when overnight work will be interrupted.

“Medevacs. So we’ve worked with a lot of the medevac companies as well as the hospitals in the region to notify them of the closures. And we have a contract in place, that the contractor will be able to have the runway open at enough distance for a medevac flight to be able to land and take off within an hour’s notice.”

Passengers aboard aircraft using the airport during the daytime should not notice any difference between the old runway surface and the new overlay. Woodrow says the standard for replacing runways is different than state highways, and so is the method.

“Where we’ll tear up the top layer of a long section of road and come back and do the new asphalt overlay and do the next side of the road.”

That’s not the case for runways.

“They’re doing the runway in sections. Basically patches at a time. So when the next plane takes off or lands it will seem like a smooth transition from the old asphalt to the new asphalt until the whole runway is done.”

But that doesn’t mean that aircraft will have the full length of the runway for duration of the project. Woodrow says there will be times when pilots will have to tighten up their landings just a bit.

“We’ve worked with Alaska Airlines quite a bit to see what they need as a minimum to land the plane safely. So there will be parts of the runway that will be closed, but there will be a large enough section of the runway that planes will be able to land on without an issue.”

Woodrow says most of the runway overlay work should be done by May 25. Other work on the ramp could last into June.

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