The U.S. Air Force has confirmed delays of Offutt Air Force Base’s runway replacement project, at a cost of nearly $176 million.
According to 55th Wing Public Affairs, 77-year-old runway replacement at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska has been pushed back from December 2019 to October 2020.
Offutt’s 55th Wing had planned to begin a reconstruction project later this year that would replace about one-fourth of the runway that was in the worst condition.
The ten-month delay of the runway closure allows for demolition and earthwork to begin before winter. This sets up the program to be in the asphalt and concrete work phase by spring 2021 and wrapping up the needed inspections and Federal Aviation Administration approval to reopen in the twelfth month of work.
Sections of Offutt’s current runway are more than 70 years old. Regular maintenance is required to sustain safe flight conditions. The replacement, which is projected to cost approximately $176 million between Offutt and Lincoln, sets up the 55th Wing’s global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission to continue from Offutt for at least 20 years before any major maintenance is required.
“It is definitely needed. [The 55th Civil Engineer Squadron] is pouring man-hours and resources into our current runway just to keep it functioning,” said Rob Hufford, 55th CES civil engineer and 55th Wing Project Management Office engineering lead. “As it ages we have to put more time and money into it, but we still have the same amount of people and the same amount of money.”
The finished product is planned to be built narrower but with the same length. Features of the new runway design include concrete landing zones with an asphalt center and shoulders.
“The design we are going with is the model bases are going to across the Air Force where we can,” Hufford said. “It’s faster to construct and it’s, in theory, easier to maintain. We can go through and do asphalt repairs in a couple hours, and it’s good to go. Whereas with concrete, you need a couple of days.”
During the replacement, the wing plans to move flight operations to Lincoln Airport (LNK) which is just under 50 miles away.
“One of our driving factors is to protect the Airmen here at Offutt, from being gone longer than 12 months,” Hufford said. “We know it’s going to stink to have to go back and forth from Lincoln on a daily basis, so that’s why we are trying to limit how long that displacement occurs.”
Commuting to and operating from LNK’s west ramp is estimated to last for approximately 12 months. Nearly 800 personnel are expected to be bussed between Offutt and LNK daily until construction is completed in October of 2021.
“The 55th Maintenance Group’s main concerns revolve around the support for our people while deployed to Lincoln,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott Yancey, 83rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “We will be working extra-long shifts, four days per week, with three day breaks. Our highly trained Airmen are critical to keeping the maintenance machine moving which is why taking care of our people is our highest priority.”
Preparations are being made at the west ramp at LNK to meet the demands of the Offutt’s aircraft. The apron is being reconditioned, a temporary hangar is being erected, and renovations are being made to an existing hangar and firehouse.
Also, the program’s managers are working with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce to explore various dining possibilities at the west ramp, which does not currently offer any options within walking distance. Options being considered include having a rotation of food trucks, and working with the 55th Force Support Squadron to set up a mobile dining facility on site.
Other installation support functions are planned to be on location as needed or have special hours available to Airmen who commute to LNK.
The U.S. Air Force E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft and the U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury aircraft plan to operate out of LNK in addition to other locations.
The LeMay Aero Club plans keep the office here open during the closure and move the aircraft to the Plattsmouth Municipal Airport for the clubs flying needs.