By BRYCE MARTIN
Pioneer Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
The new Bowman County Municipal Airport is complete and a ribbon cutting has been scheduled for the end of this month, but the time leading up to its completion was plagued by turbulence.
The $16 million airport, which is four times larger than its predecessor and sits on more than 400 acres of property east of Bowman, was a project that took almost a decade to complete. Multiple phases of planning, several financial hang-ups and trying to find the right location took years before construction could begin.
Throughout the construction process, rumors circulated throughout the community regarding the airport’s runway and if the project was even worthwhile. Rodney Schaaf, Bowman County Airport Authority president, had to continually dispel such rumors but they kept resurfacing.
It reached a point where the rumors and misinformation prompted Schaaf to brief the Bowman County Board of Commissioners about the project. He said the Bowman Airport Authority has nothing to hide.
“The one I heard was that this runway is no better than the old one,” Schaaf told the Pioneer last week.
He collected the pertinent information from Brosz Engineering, the new airport’s project manager, and showed the board that the new runway is three times stronger.
Schaaf explained that the new runway’s footprint, or amount of pressure it can handle, was rated at 30,000 pounds for a tandem-wheel, which a lot of corporate jets use. The old runway is less than half that footprint for just a single-wheel plane. It’s also longer than the old runway, by about 900 feet. That makes Bowman’s runway the longest in North Dakota for a small general aviation airport.
One of the chief reasons for the new airport was the old runway’s length—it was too short for larger aircrafts to make a safe landing. That’s because of Bowman’s elevation. At 3,000 feet, the area has density-altitude restrictions in the summer—the hotter it is means more speed is necessary to get airborne and that requires more length to attain that proper speed, according to Schaaf.
To make Bowman’s airport more attractive and increase its availability for larger aircraft, such as corporate jets, the project’s planners ensured it would have a runway able to hold more mass.
The new runway, according to specifications provided by Brosz Engineering, is made of several layers, including six inches of concrete, eight inches of packed gravel sub-base and 18 inches of select fill sub-base. Schaaf said the sub-base is what gives the runway a larger footprint.
There have been some that criticized the new airport runway, but those people have misinformation, according to Schaaf.
Average corporate jets are 35,000 pounds, which Schaaf said would have no problem landing at the new airport. In fact, he said if a 30,000-pound aircraft were to takeoff and land on the new runway every day in one year, the runway would have a 94-year lifespan.
If a heavier craft, such as a 50,000-pound, 50-seat SkyWest jetliner like the ones that fly into the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, were to do the same, the runway would have about a 70-year lifespan.
But if such an expansive jet were brought into the new airport occasionally, there would be no problem, Schaaf said.
As for the dip in the middle of the runway, Schaaf said it has no bearing on aircraft safety. From Highway 12, Schaaf admitted it appears to be a large dip, but he said once you’re on the runway, it’s barely noticeable.
Schaaf said it’s rated at a 0.3 percent slope—airlines can travel on runway with slopes up to 2 percent.
“If you wanted a perfectly level runway, this area would have to be raised anywhere from 12 to 15 feet,” Schaaf said. That would result in a cost of millions of dollars.
“We’re lucky we got the money we did,” he admitted.
In the next week the runway will be used for the first time when aircraft is transferred from the old airport. Until then, inflatable X’s are positioned on either end of the runway. Those will be transported to the old runway once the airport is officially open May 28.
As for the airport’s whopping $16 million price tag, that’s not entirely being funded locally. The total cost on eligible items, which are items at the airport that do not generate revenue such as runway, ramp, lights and security fence, is shared between the FAA, the state and the county.
The county paid a total of roughly $4 million for everything — $16 million total project — but only 5 percent of the eligible items. That totaled roughly $800,000. The county then paid roughly $3 million for items that weren’t paid, such as a fuel farm, private hangars, part of the main terminal and T-hangars.
The airport’s annual operating expenses are appropriated by the state.
A ribbon cutting and open house will be held at the new airport May 28. It’s a day the airport board has eagerly awaited. A fly-in is also scheduled at the new airport during the Bowman All School Reunion in July.