story by Jamie Smith, special to The City Wire
HIGHFILL — Officials at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) plan to recommend that the airport’s board approve The Harper Co. as the contractor to make much-needed repairs to XNA’s main runway. The board meets June 13 and will be asked to approve the $26.166 million contract.
“The Harper Co. is a well-known and qualified airfield pavement contractor,” said Barbara Busiek, XNA’s construction project manager.
Bids were opened May 10 and five contractors were listed as completing qualified bids. Bids were originally scheduled to be opened April 26 but several contractors purchased plans close to the deadline and officials wanted to give them time to complete the paperwork in hopes of getting as many competitive bids as possible, explained Airport Director Kelly Johnson.
“The more competition usually gets a better price,” she said.
If the contract is approved, airport officials can then apply for the second of three, $10 million grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. The first $10 million grant was received and is being held for engineering costs related to renovating and repairing drainage along the runway. The third grant will be sought at a later time and will be used to continue paving and lighting improvements at the airport.
“The airport is waiting for FAA grant approval and is hopeful to start construction late summer or early fall (of 2012),” Busiek said. “The construction phasing is contingent on FAA grant funding. Best case, construction will be completed December 2013. Worse case completion could be December 2015.”
The alternate runway completed last year will become “taxiway alpha” once renovations begin, Johnson said in February. The 8,800-foot long runway will slightly increase taxi time but airport officials don’t foresee lengthy passenger delays, she said. The runway that is being repaired suffered weather-related damage, making it necessary to resurface sooner than expected.
Besides planning for a major renovation, XNA has been incredibly busy lately with the opening of the first sit-down restaurant, The American Grill, in April. The airport was also a hub of activity as Walmart celebrated its 50th anniversary with the annual shareholders’ meeting in early June.
Johnson said recently that meetings between Walmart and the airport begin months in advance as they prepare to welcome shareholders from all over the world.
“There’s a lot of logistics and planning,” she said.
The planning involves both welcoming shareholders but also how to accommodate non-shareholder traffic in the most efficient way possible.
“They do a phenomenal job,” Johnson said of the Walmart planners.
As the summer travel season kicks into full swing, it’s still unclear just how busy the airport will be. The biggest driving factor will be fuel costs, Johnson said.
“If the fuel prices go up, then the rates go up and ridership goes down,” she said.