Future upgrades at Mitchell Airport to make way for safer runways

November 29 — City officials are upgrading Mitchell Airport to make the experience safer for aircraft.

To avoid a potential accident on the tracks, public works director Joe Schroeder said a team of engineers were working on a design that would decouple the tracks. Currently, Mitchell Airport, located at the northern end of town, has two runways that meet near the airport building.

“The track needs to be replaced anyway, so now is a good time for decoupling,” he said.

Schroeder said a fatal crash occurred in 1984 at Aberdeen Airport due to a joint runway similar to Mitchell’s existing layout. The pilot took the wrong runway to take off into the air and crashed into a nearby fence and ditch, killing three people on the plane.

“Our track is sort of set up for this scenario to happen, so it’s a big project to finish,” said Schroeder, noting that the decoupling project will reach the design phase in the near future.

With the airport master plan underway, Schroeder said he would move the city closer to rebuild the runway with new surfacing to handle more planes and begin design work for the decoupling of the runways. Although Mitchell Airport is relatively small, he said he continued to see an increasing number of planes using it, especially during the fall hunting seasons.

Aberdeen-based Helms and Associates is the engineering company that designs the airport master plan. At a recent city council meeting, Brooke Edgar, a professional engineer at Helms and Associates, said Mitchell Airport rarely experiences two planes landing at the same time.

Edgar said there was no plane crash at Mitchell Airport caused by the runway. But she noted that the setup could confuse pilots.

A major facet of the master plan includes the reconstruction of the aging runway pavement.

The Pavement Condition Index (PCI) process is used to determine the pavement condition of the runway, which is based on a 0-100 number system. According to Edgar, the CPI for the track is 63.

“The typical number that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t like to see on a runway for safety reasons is less than 60 PCIs,” said Edgar. “The track here at Mitchell is at 63 PCI, so we’re at that point where we need to start preparing the design to rebuild this track.”

The concrete pavement for the airport runway dates back to 1942, while some of the asphalt was installed in 1975, Edgar noted. Considering the aging of the asphalt and pavement, Edgar said both surfaces have held up well over the years at the former Mitchell Army Airfield, which was first built in 1937.

“It’s been done well and has stood the test of time, but it’s time to start fixing this,” Edgar said.

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