Hundreds of community members joined the Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport staff Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate a landmark day for the airport — the opening of a 5,501-foot grooved concrete north/south runway, whose unveiling was highlighted by a KC Flight Formation Team flyover.
“The runway is now 5,501 feet long and that extra foot is very important,” Lee’s Summit Deputy Director of Public Works Bob Hartnett said. “Many insurance companies will not insure planes that take off from runways 5,500 feet or less.”
The Federal Aviation Administration, the Missouri Department of Transportation, and the city of Lee’s Summit along with numerous businesses were among the primary partners in the $18 million project, which fulfills a key component in the airport’s master plan that was adopted in 1996 and updated in 2000 with a goal to enhance local commerce.
“Within that 25-mile radius, we have regional, national, and international businesses,” Hartnett said. “We have planned for the airport to become an economic engine for development in Lee’s Summit and all of eastern Jackson County.”
The new longer runway — it was lengthened from 4,014 feet — can accommodate larger planes with heavier fuel loads, including corporate jets that are capable of reaching the East and West Coasts without stopping to refuel. It also provides improved visibility in adverse weather conditions.
The project — which used Emery Sapp and Sons as the general contractor and Crawford Murphy and Tilly, Inc., as the engineering design firm — also extended the crosswind runway from 3,800 feet to 4,000 feet, widened the north/south runway from 75 feet to 100 feet, added nine inches of pavement thickness to the north/south runway, and improved the airfield’s lighting.
“Our construction and engineering professionals, the airport management team, Lee’s Summit public works, and all of our partners worked long days and nights in mud, dust, and rain — all on the same day sometimes,” Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport Manager John Ohrazda said. “But whatever it took, they got the job done.”
Lee’s Summit also purchased the 40,000-square foot Hangar 1 at the airport as part of the project, which was paid for with $17 million in state and federal grants coupled with a 5 percent local match from the city of Lee’s Summit,
“Having an airport like this is like having a major railway,” Ohrazda said. “When businesses look at locations, an airport is often a major consideration. Dozens of businesses use this airport and they are happy now that they won’t have to divert to refuel.”
Groundbreaking for the new runway took place in the fall of 2015 and the earthwork portion of the project took a year.
The paving, which started in the fall of 2016 and only recently was completed, creates a new runway that doubles the airport’s maximum aircraft capacity. The previous runway could accommodate a 30,000-pound plane, but the improved facility can accommodate a 60,000-pound plane.
“Though sizable, a 60,000-pound aircraft is not a commercial plane,” Hartnett said. “Commercial planes range from 160,000 to 200,000 pounds. People in the community were concerned that we were going to attract commercial traffic, but that was not the intent.”
After allaying concerns about the project’s environmental impact, funding, and other issues raised within the Lee’s Summit community, Ohrazda was thrilled to celebrate a day more than two decades in the making.
“It’s taken 20 years to get here,” said Ohrazda, who has served as the airport’s manager for the last 40 years. “There have been many steps and many hurdles to jump across. It was a long road and a rough road, at times.”
Harnett said they won over the community through a multi-step process that included initial master plan along with an airport business plan created 10 years ago that supplemented the vision of what the airport could become.
“I think more businesses will come and the airport will help the economy,” said Shepherd’s Way Ministries Director Shirley McNeall, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Not everybody’s been for it, but I think it’s a good thing.”
The city purchased the airport, including a 2,400-foot runway at the time, along with 60 acres in 1977. The facility has grown to 488 acres and there are plans for a new terminal east of the runway.
The airport also touted a partnership with St. Michael the Archangel High School, which opened in August and is located a short distance from the airport.
St Michael is one of 31 high schools in the United States that offers an aviation STEM curriculum.
Through a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association and Purdue University, St. Michael will offer high school students a comprehensive four-year aviation course that culminates with completing a drone or private pilot license, according to St. Michael’s Aviation Program Director and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Howard Schneeberger.