New changes, improvements at airport

ESCANABA – With record high emplanement numbers, the completion of an airport apron rehabilitation and taxiway reconstruction project, and the hiring of a new assistant airport manager, things seem to be taking off at the Delta County Airport.

“Our emplanement numbers look fabulous,” said Delta County Airport Manager Kelly Smith, noting the most recent available unofficial numbers from the end of November showed 13,260 boardings this year.

“That’s the first time we’ve hit even over 13,000 since 2001,” she said, adding this number is more than the 10,000 boardings required to receive their million dollar grant funding through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Last year’s project, which was completed in three phases and was mostly finished in October, replaced and widened existing pavement on one of the airport’s two runways; it also included rehabilitation of commercial and general aviation ramp and apron space, and rehabilitation of faded markings to aid aircraft movement and improve safety.

“We had the apron in front of the terminal redone and that’s just the concrete pad that was out there for the airlines,” said Smith. “They had to redo that with the size of the aircraft that now comes in. And then we also had the DNR hangar taxiway and ramp space completed and redone.”

Though the vast majority of the project has been completed, Smith noted crews will be back in the spring to finish painting along with crews from the state of Michigan who will also finish some paint marking at the airport.

Looking ahead, 2014’s major airport project will be purchasing a new snow plow and installing brand-new signage on runway 9/27, one of the airport’s two runways. The following year, the airport plans to use its grant funding toward new LED lighting on runway 9/27.

Additionally, the FAA will work to change the airport’s instrument landing equipment in late spring.

“It’s better for pilots and it’s more up-to-date,” Smith said of this equipment. “The stuff now you get is antiquated. It’s old and you have to keep refixing it and redoing it, so they’ll be doing that project next spring also.”

Aside from emplanement numbers and grant projects, the airport also has hired a new assistant airport manager to fill the vacancy of Becka Holm, who has since moved out of the county to pursue another career opportunity.

According to Suani Nieto, who has replaced Holm as assistant airport manager since Sept. 3, the job is going quite well.

“It’s just getting past the fact that I’m not going to learn everything at once so it’s a lot of on the job training,” said Nieto. “I’ve been here for three months now and…I used to say I feel comfortable with maybe one-fifth of the job. I’m more comfortable now with two-fifths.”‘

Smith said Nieto passed her required airport security coordinator test two days after she started at the airport and was certified as assistant airport manager through the state of Michigan just a few weeks later.

Prior to working as assistant airport manager, Nieto split her time working for the Delta County Economic Development Alliance and Delta County Chamber of Commerce for approximately a year and a half.

“It was an easier transition than it could have been,” said Smith, noting that Nieto worked with EDA Director Vicki Schwab who serves on the airport board, which gave her some knowledge of the airport, including how it operates the county’s renaissance zone.

“It was a great fit for us because Suani already knew a lot of the ren zone issues, the industrial park and working on that aspect in dealing with some of the rules and regulations we have to deal with,” she said.

Other than the new Bell’s Brewery building being constructed in the county’s renaissance zone, Smith noted things are quiet around the airport, but going very well.

“Our pilots really like our runways and they like the conditions we keep in the winter time,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of cancellations because of conditions. It’s more of what’s going on around us to get that plane here.”

Smith urges the public to always check www.delta.com for flights as the Delta County Airport offers comparable rates and free parking.

Having an earlier morning departure for Detroit at 6:30 a.m. is also great for customers, she said, as they reach Detroit in time to make every morning connecting flight out of there.

“Iron Mountain now flies to Minneapolis, so that’s a great route that way,” said Smith. “With us being 50 miles apart from each other, we don’t lose a lot of traffic anymore…so we have good reasons to be happy about what’s going on.”