Plans to shut down Durango-La Plata County Airport for maintenance in September are on schedule with the airport set to close for 10 days to repave the runway and install new lighting.
“In September of 2021, we established formal construction dates for the project. Those remain in place through today and we’re on track to meet those date(s), which is great to say,” said Tony Vicari, director of aviation for DRO.
DRO will pause all commercial flights from Wednesday, Sept. 7, through Friday, Sept. 16, as well as cargo, aerial firefighting, emergency medical and military training flights.
Helicopter traffic will be unaffected.
Earlier this year, DRO awarded the contract for the paving of its runway to Farmington-based Four Corners Materials.
During the 10-day pause, Four Corners Materials will conduct a mill and overlay of the 9,201-foot-long by 150-foot-wide runway surface, scraping off and replacing the top 3 inches of pavement.
After repaving the asphalt, crews will then groove the surface (which helps with aircraft braking) and repaint the runway.
DRO will also upgrade its incandescent lighting to LEDs during the 10-day window in September.
“We’ve seen for a number of years the slow degradation of the pavement surface, and that’s something that we’ve been tracking through our capital program to make sure that we rehab the asphalt surface well before any impacts arise that would restrict our ability to facilitate aircraft arrivals and takeoff,” Vicari said.
The airport has been eyeing the project for five years while working with the Federal Aviation Administration, Colorado Department of Transportation, airlines and other stakeholders to perform the necessary maintenance on its only runway while also minimizing the impacts to travelers in the Four Corners.
To ensure the project meets its deadline, crews will work 24/7 over the 10 days. DRO and Four Corners Materials have also built redundancy into the project, including multiple asphalt plants so that any obstacles that emerge do not jeopardize the timeline, Vicari said.
“We feel like we’ve done pretty much everything we can to make sure that we hit the timelines that we’ve been floating to the community and our airline partners,” he said.
DRO and its partners carefully considered the best timing for the maintenance.
The airport’s slowest months are April and November, but weather limits construction during both months. Wildfire season also narrowed DRO’s time frame, with the airport hesitant to close the runway and limit Durango Air Tanker Base operations during peak wildfire risk from May through July.
DRO typically sees a dip in traffic right after Labor Day when the project is scheduled, Vicari said.
After finalizing the dates in September 2021, the airport immediately shared them with American Airlines and United Airlines, working with the airlines to pull reservations during the 10-day time frame.
When visiting either airlines’ website, travelers are unable to book tickets and no one should have a ticket out of Durango during the construction, Vicari said.
Those who still intend to travel must look to other airports in Cortez or Montrose or larger airports in Albuquerque and Denver.
“We definitely understand that none of those are convenient for our local travelers and we’re very aware of that. (We) thought throughout this whole process to keep the closure period as short as practicable on our end,” Vicari said. “But the reality of a one runway airport is at some point you do have to close to accomplish the paving work. We’re going to feel that pain for that 10-day period, but the good news is once we’re completed with this most important piece of infrastructure at the airport, we’ll be freshly rehabilitated.”
When designing the project, DRO analyzed the flights using the airport, including commercial, aerial firefighting and military, to determine the best pavement mix for the runway.
The new runway surface should last a decade or more with only routine overnight work required during that time, Vicari said.
After a record breaking 2021, air travel at DRO has relaxed slightly with June traffic close to the airport’s pre-pandemic levels.
DRO’s runway resurfacing is just one of several paving projects this year, with the airport also rehabilitating part of its taxiway, building parking areas for ground service equipment and repaving areas near the facility’s private hangers.
The airport has another roughly dozen capital projects scheduled for 2023, the most notable of which will be breaking ground on the first phase of DRO’s terminal development.
The airport’s first phase of redevelopment will largely focus on expanding parking, including a new rental car area, but it will also include updated restrooms and other post-screening services.
It will mark the first step in the complete reimagining of the airport to meet projected growth in the coming years, and groundbreaking could happen as soon as the first quarter of next year, Vicari said.
Though the repaving of DRO’s lone runway this September will be inconvenient for travelers, Vicari shared excitement and a belief that the routine maintenance will serve the communities of the Four Corners over the long run.
“The runway at the end of the day is a fairly benign piece of pavement, but what it represents is the ability of the airport to function as an airport,” Vicari said. “By investing in that, we’re ensuring that we can continue to facilitate commercial air traffic, air tanker traffic, military flights, medical flights, air cargo, all these critical things that serve Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico.
“I think that’s the smartest investment we could possibly make at the airport,” he said.