Airport kicks off $7M runway extension project

Candy Neal/The Herald


Airport, local, state and national leaders gathered this morning at the site where the Huntingburg Airport’s runway will be extended.

They gathered for the official project kickoff for the runway, though contractor Weddle Brothers Construction of Evansville has been working at the site for a few weeks already.

“It’s great to see this project finally come to fruition,” said airport authority president Jim Hunsicker.

The airport authority has been planning for more than 10 years to make the airport’s runway longer and wider. The airport needed funding from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation to make it happen. Engineering firm Woolpert Inc. of Indianapolis has been working on the project and working to funding through INDOT and the FAA. The two agencies kept delaying budgeting the funds, which kept delaying the project.

In April 2019, the airport authority and Woolpert learned that the FAA and INDOT had designated in their budgets funding for the extension project, which meant a grant application could start to be prepared and a contractor could be sought for the project. In July, Weddle Brothers Construction of Evansville was selected by the board; the company’s bid was submitted to the FAA on the airport’s grant application.

The $7 million needed for the project finally came through last fall. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the federal award of $5.97 million; INDOT and local funding covered the rest.

The federal funding covers lowering County Road 200 West, constructing a 180-foot tunnel over the road near the end of the new runway, moving about 270,000 cubic yards of dirt to the end of runway to fill in where the 500-foot extension will be located, reconstructing 700 feet of existing runway, and taking care of utility work.

Weddle Brothers started working at the site near 200 West in January.

A longer runway allows planes to carry more weight. When a plane flies out of Huntingburg, it’s usually the fuel, not the passengers or luggage, that gets sacrificed for weight reasons. With less fuel, a plane might need to land more frequently to refuel, a possible burden when executives need to travel quickly. By extending the runway, the airport becomes more attractive to customers.

Plus, current airport corporate tenants — Kimball, OFS Brands, Jasper Engines, Best Chairs and MasterBrand — will be able to carry more people, baggage and fuel; that will give them the ability to fly further, more safely and more economically.

“This airport is very important to our company,” said Hank Menke, head of OFS Brands. “Last year we carried almost 1,000 passengers in and out of this airport, whether they were customers or customers’ parcels or their designers, architects. It is a very, very, very necessary part of our business.”

He mentioned recently landing a $7.2 million contract with a Saudi Arabian company after bringing in some of its representatives to Huntingburg via the airport. “Aviation helps us secure orders,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who just got back to Jasper from Washington, DC, came to the ceremony to praise the work that is being done.

“If we’re going to grow into the future, we need good roads and bridges. We need good airports. We need waterways that are in good shape that’s not too far away from us,” he said.

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