Runway 14-32 might be closed to fixed-wing air traffic, but there is plenty of action taking place on Coleman Kelly Field at the Destin Airport.
"We've got crews working twenty-four-hours a day," said project manager Heather Weigel, an aviation construction inspector with RS&H, an engineering service company. "It's a mill and overlay project where between one-and-a-half and two-inches of the existing asphalt were removed for a full resurfacing of the runway."
Crews have been working on repairs to the 5,000-foot-long and 100-foot-wide runway for about a month. Work began with a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. construction cycle, before the runway was closed to air traffic completely Feb. 4.
Since then, the skies above Destin have been eerily quiet as planes are rerouted to other airports in Northwest Florida.
As part of the roughly $5 million project, the airport's electronic runway navigation system will see updates to the "hold short" taxiway signs and directional signs, as well as a complete replacement of the runway signs. Modern, cost-efficient LED lights will be installed.
Milling work began Monday at 9 p.m. and 12-hours later, the entire runway was set to be paved. The runway is being paved in 1,000-foot segments, which typically takes "several hours" to complete.
"Brand new pavement is always nice," Weigel said. "It's like having the road in front of your house paved — it's a headache at first, but you appreciate it when it's done."
Weigel said that more than 16,000-tons of asphalt, courtesy of C.W. Roberts' Freeport plant, would be used during the project.
"Each truck carries roughly between 18 to 21 tons (of asphalt)," she said. "So, if you do the math, that's a lot of asphalt."
With more than 15 years in the industry, Weigel told The Log that a typical runway, depending on traffic volume, lasts between 20-40 years. Destin’s lived well beyond that as the runway replacement at the airport is the first major overhaul since it was constructed in 1963.
Design work on the repair project began in earnest more than a year ago, Weigel said. Given the tight deadline, she said there can be a little pressure to make sure everything stays on pace.
"You spend a lot of time analyzing the details and losing sleep over the details," she said. "Between the prime contractor and the sub contractor, we've got a lot of equipment out here in a little space."
"I'm out here at least sixteen to eighteen hours a day, willingly," she added with a chuckle.
During the closure, pilots can use Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, which is the closest option, at 23-miles, and has complete services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Peter Prince Airport in Milton (35 miles from Destin) and the DeFuniak Springs Airport (26 miles) away, are other options, but both are limited in what size aircraft they can accommodate, airport officials have said.
As of Wednesday, the project was on schedule. The improved runway is expected to open Feb. 12 at 6 a.m. If work hasn't wrapped up by that time, crews will complete the work on an overnight schedule.
Nearby roadways have also been impacted by the project. The right-hand, northbound lane of Airport Road (beginning at the Commons Drive intersection and continuing approximately 1,500 feet north) will remain closed until 7 a.m. on Feb. 12. The airport’s contractor will be using the closed lane to move trucks to and from the construction site.
Crews will also be back in Destin 30-days after project completion to finish the runway striping, which will be put down temporarily for now.
"We are doing everything we can to be ready for Tuesday's opening," Weigel said.