By Tim Leeds
Flights to Havre will have to delay or detour next week while the Havre City-County Airport undergoes some renovation.
Bob Reum, chair of the airport's board, said the airport will be closed Thursday through Sept. 12 so workers can seal cracks, lay down fog seal, paint the lettering and markings on the runways, install lights at the end of one runway, and install distance-to-go signs on two runways.
Reum said only bad weather will prevent the work from being done on those days. He said the crack sealing cannot be done if there is any moisture on the runway.
The Federal Aviation Administration will pay 90 percent of the nearly $117,000 expense, leaving $11,663 for the airport board to pick up. Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette, a member of the airport board, said the board has the money and won't need additional funds from the city or county for the project.
Reum said that in the past, the FAA has begun to spend more money on airport maintenance rather than waiting until repairs are needed. He added that the work will extend the life of the pavement by 10 years, and spending $100,000 now will prevent needing to spend millions later.
Brian Moore, owner of Havre Flying Service, said he has been notifying the businesses that make commercial flights to the airport about the closure, including Big Sky Airlines and UPS. He said Alpine Air, which makes the aerial deliveries to Havre for the U.S. Postal Service, has also been notified.
Kim Champney, president of Big Sky Airlines, said his company just received notice of the closure. The airline staff hasn't had time to decide what it will do if all the runways are closed, he added. He said his staff needs a little more time to decide what to do.
Big Sky has two flights between Havre and Billings on weekdays, and one flight Saturday and Sunday.
Kathie Newell of Northern Montana Hospital said the closure likely won't affect the hospital's emergency flights to Benefis East in Great Falls.
"We are transporting 99.9 percent of our folks via helicopter, the mercy flights, anyway," she said. Since those flights land at the hospital's helipad, they won't be affected.
She said sometimes the hospital does use airplanes, mainly as a backup for the helicopter flights. She said if a particular case arose where an airplane were needed, Northern Montana Hospital would work closely with Benefis to find what their options would be.
Richard O'Leary, postmaster at the Havre post office, said today he hadn't been informed of the closure. He said Havre does have some mail flown in from Billings, but a truck also comes from there.
He said the mail normally flown in could come in on the truck, making it arrive a little later. That would require more work at the Havre post office, but shouldn't make any difference on the local delivery.
Reum said the improvements planned for the airport do more than simply maintain the runways. He said the new runway end lights will improve the airport's accessibility to flights during bad weather. He added that the distance-to-go signs were also the last requirement before the airport could qualify for the next higher classification with the FAA. He said trying to get the higher classification is a possibility for the future.