The Concord airport that has hosted the last five presidents of the United States could see a major safety improvement this year.
Nearly $3 million in federal money will pay for a new taxiway parallel to one of the two runways at Concord Municipal Airport.
Right now, General Manager David Rolla said, pilots have to drive their planes down the runway and then turn around before taking off. With the new taxiway, they will be able to prepare for flight on that separate path, out of the way of other aircraft.
“That’s going to be a huge safety improvement,” Rolla said.
On its busy days, Rolla estimated the airport averages about 100 total takeoffs and landings per day.
Grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration will cover 90 percent of the cost for a new taxiway, and the city will split the remaining 10 percent with the state – a bill that amounts to about $151,000 each. The total cost comes to about $3.03 million.
The city council approved money for the first phase of the project in August. Construction on the taxiway was supposed to start last fall, Associate Engineer Martha Drukker said, and its separate phases were scheduled to last until 2016. But if the city council approves the last chunk of money for the project next month, the taxiway could be completed by this fall.
“We will see some savings with both of (the phases) together,” Drukker said. “We’ll end up with a better product.”
The airport might also end up with more traffic coming in and out.
“I think over the past several years, the economy has hit airports around the state very hard,” Drukker said. “The price of fuel and people not traveling. So this will hopefully expand our user base for the airport and provide a more comfortable landing for the users and pilots.”
Many of the planes using Concord Municipal Airport are privately owned by area residents and used for recreation, Rolla said. The airport also hosts a flight school.
Those pilots “don’t have to contend with the large commercial jet traffic like you have down in Manchester,” Rolla said. “It’s a great airport for local citizens to use.”
But the New Hampshire Air National Guard and the state police also use the airport, and business and government leaders have entered Concord through that tarmac.
“Every four years, we have the presidential primaries in the state,” Rolla said. “As I recall, the last five presidents of the United States have come through the Concord airport in the course of being elected to that position.”
“The airport, it’s the gateway to the city,” he said.
The project, which has been in capital plans for the airport and the city since 2006, will also have to accommodate endangered species in the area – most notably, the Karner blue butterfly, Drukker said.
“We’re very restricted to our work time because we are dealing with a lot of sensitive resources up at the airport,” Drukker said.
Construction on the new taxiway should begin as soon as winter subsides, and should not dramatically affect airport traffic, Drukker said.