After delays created by the temporary shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Santa Maria Public Airport runway extension project is on pace to be completed early next year.

The second phase of the project, estimated to cost $5.4 million, will extend the runway pavement 1,700 feet and relocate navigational aids for the facility’s instrument landing system.

The original plan called for construction to be complete in August and certified by the FAA by the year’s end. But when the FAA’s operating authority was suspended this summer by the federal budgetary battle, that schedule was tossed into the wind.  “FAA funding has been a unique challenge in 2011,” said John Smith, project engineer with Tartaglia Engineering. “It was by no means a normal grant cycle.”

Because of the delay in funding, completion of the runway extension has been pushed back to April 5. Granite Construction, which handled the first phase, also will complete the second phase.

The project actually began Sunday night when the glide slope was turned off and pavement markings were removed. Smith said much of the work will take place at night. Work also will take place in the airport’s flight path.  “Unlike the last phase, we are totally impacting operations for the next six months,” he said.

In addition to adding more than one-third of a mile of pavement to the main runway, the project will resurface 400 to 500 feet of the western end of the current runway to make the two sections seamlessly mesh.

Smith said the project will have a number of challenges, including rubble removal in the construction area, relocating Pacific Gas and Electric Co. equipment and dealing with potentially saturated dirt.

Pilots also will have some challenges dealing with reduced navigational aids. Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said the glide slope has been turned off and will remain off until the project is complete in April, which could affect landings in poor weather.  “If it is foggy, there is a good chance we’ll have some cancellations,” Hastert said.  Poor visibility could divert some air traffic to either San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara airports.

By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer bbullock@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

Posted: Friday, October 28, 2011