UKIAH, 9/14/23 – In early October, Ukiah Regional Airport will close for approximately one month to complete a federally funded project to narrow its runway and install a new runway lightning system to improve safety conditions.
According to airport manager Greg Owen, the city-operated airport will close to all fixed-wing aircraft traffic from October 2 to November 6 to implement the project, which is mandated and funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA awarded the airport a $2.2 million grant to implement the project.
The airport is classified as a “B2” facility which, says Owen, is determined by the wingspan and landing weight of aircraft using the airport. An airport with a runway that is too wide or narrow can cause pilots to suffer from illusions, such as believing the aircraft is at a higher altitude than it really is. According to the FAA, illusions can lead to spatial disorientation, one of the most common factors in fatal accidents, hence the critical nature of this project.
In addition to narrowing the runway, the FAA grant will fund the upgrading of airfield lighting. The grant covers the installation of five new lighting systems, including four using LED lighting. The new lighting will “enhance safety and reliability for aircraft operations, especially during the nighttime and adverse weather conditions,” according to Owen. “The improved lighting will provide better visibility for pilots, reducing the risk of accidents and improving overall efficiency.”
This project is part two of major improvements to the runway at Ukiah Regional Airport. In 2019, the airport received a grant from the FAA to complete a mandated repaving, the first repaving since 1984. That project required the airport to also close to fixed-wing traffic, including Cal Fire planes, for about one month in early May through June 2020. Originally, Cal Fire planes were expected to arrive in Ukiah on June 1 for wildfire season. However, due to rain, the repaving project was delayed two weeks, requiring Cal Fire to respond to wildfire incidents from Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa. Cal Fire planes eventually arrived for duty at Ukiah Regional Airport on June 28, 2020.
For this year’s project, the airport will be closed to all fixed-wing aircraft starting October 2. Helicopters, including Cal Fire, and air ambulances will continue to operate as normal. As for Cal Fire, UPS and FedEx airplanes, “all have made arrangements to operate out of different airports and no significant impact to services is projected,” says Owen. “For example, if a wildfire were to break out near Ukiah, Cal Fire planes would likely respond from its Sonoma County Airport base, which would only increase response time by about ten minutes.” The airport is expected to open to all aircraft by November 6.
Owen understands that the community may be concerned about the limited Cal Fire availability at the airport, especially during wildfire season. He also acknowledges that there is never a great time to close an airport, but it’s critical that major construction projects be done during the dry season. “It’s exponentially better to be proactive and plan ahead for these repairs instead of having to institute emergency closures due to accidents caused by deferred maintenance,” says Owen. “The Ukiah Regional Airport is a tremendous asset to our entire valley, and the City of Ukiah is committed to its safety and sustainability.”
Note: Sarah Stierch covers food, beverage, culture, weather and breaking news for The Mendocino Voice. Contact Stierch at [email protected]. The Voice maintains editorial control.