Hammond airport to get tower

Design work for a control tower at the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport is nearing completion, and the project could go out for bids within a month, airport Director Jason Ball said.

The tower is one of three improvement projects under way at the airport: officials also are working on a multiyear drainage improvement project and designing the reconstruction of the airfield’s two-runway intersection, Ball said.

The tower, being financed through $750,000 in state capital outlay funds and $800,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration, will improve safety at the 80-year-old airport by enabling airfield personnel to control takeoffs and landings on the two runways, Ball said.

“We’ve had some fairly close incidents from people not talking to each other or being on different frequencies. The tower will talk to all of them and maneuver everyone safely,” he said.

The increased safety could also prove to be an economic draw, Ball said.

“A lot of businesses will only fly to towered airports because they’re safer,” he said. “Also, many of the businesses based at towered airports can get discounts on their insurance.”

The 60-foot-tall tower will be erected on the west side of the airfield, at the northern end of a line of hangars near the intersection of the two runways, Ball said.

A siting study determined that this location offers the best sight distance for each of the four approaches, he said.

The Louisiana Army National Guard, which has stationed its 244th Air Assault Helicopter Battalion and 204th Theater Air Operation Command at the airport, has agreed to pay for all tower equipment and provide staffing until the FAA accepts the tower into its Contract Tower Program, Ball said. At that point, the FAA would staff the tower with contract air traffic controllers, he said.

A final design meeting for the tower will be held Jan. 8 and, if all goes well, the project will be put out for bid by month’s end, Ball said.

Construction is projected to take about 10 months, but may extend into early 2014, he said.

Also under way is a multi-year, $5 million drainage improvement project that, in its first phase, will prevent further failures in the decades-old system of pipes running beneath the airfield’s runways and taxiways, Ball said.

“Over the years, water has degraded the joints and started eating away at soil under the runways, causing failures in the pavement,” Ball said.

Shutting down the runways for excavation and replacement of the pipes would have been too costly, so officials have opted instead to line the pipes to prevent further breakdowns, he said.

The first phase of the drainage project also will include resetting and increasing in size two culverts at the north-side canal to improve drainage there, he said.

The work, estimated at $1.2 million, is in line for 100 percent funding through the Louisiana Aviation Trust Fund, which is dedicated to airport infrastructure and funded through a tax on aviation fuel, Ball said.

Phase one will be put out for bid as soon as an environmental study on the project has been completed, he said.

A later phase will include creation of a detention pond to handle flooding such as that experienced after Hurricane Isaac. The storm left 14 inches of standing water on the airfield, Ball said.

Airport officials are also in the early design stages of a runway rehabilitation project that will strengthen the intersection of the airfield’s two runways.

The intersection, which dates back to the 1930s or 1940s, currently has one of the weakest sections of pavement on the airfield in terms of weight-bearing capacity, Ball said.

In addition, the intersection is constructed of 12-by-15-foot, free-floating concrete panels that allow water to flow between and degrade them, he said.

The intersection is still relatively strong, but has passed its prime and should be replaced with something designed to well exceed current needs, he said.

The reconstruction project will require shutting down both runways, a potentially costly move for businesses based at the airport, Ball said. However, the project will not reach the construction phase anytime soon.

“Not in the next year. Maybe in the next five years,” Ball said. “But we’re not even sure about that.”

The uncertainty largely stems from airport officials’ desire to give tenants at least a year’s notice before construction begins so that they can make preparations for the closure, he said.

“We’re going to design the work around a time frame that hopefully is the least inconvenient for them,” Ball said. “We want to make sure they have ample time to double up on their business to make up for the lost days or even move to another airport, if needed, during that time.”