Minor Improvements Make a Big Difference
One of many recent upgrades at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) is visible up to five miles away. The bright new PAPI system is an invitation to Wittman’s runways and ramps as the world comes to Oshkosh.
New Precision Approach Path Indicators near the approach end of Runway 9 offer pilots more precise information as they fly the approach to the runway. The old VASI system’s red and white beams signaled “Too high,” “too low,” and “optimum 3 degree approach,” depending on the approach of incoming aircraft. The new PAPI’s fixed beams now also indicate to pilots when the approach is slightly high or slightly low. It is a proven system in use at 938 airports in the National Airspace System (NAS), and the entire installation cost was covered by the FAA.
This latest technology improves reliability and safety at the same time. “We noticed the learning curve improve,” said Jared Huss, chief instructor of aeronautics for Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) Pilot Career Center. “One of the most difficult things new pilots need to learn is how to land an airplane, and the PAPIs have helped students improve their judgment of appropriate glide paths as they are coming in to land.”
After landing, pilots will notice newly refreshed runway markings and signage across Wittman’s four busy runways. “Everything the airport has been doing lately helps with safety and enhances the experience at the airport,” added Huss. FVTC is the busiest of Wittman’s operators, with as many as 15,000 takeoffs and landings each year.
Starting in July of 2014, pilots landing on Runways 5/23 and 13/31 touched down onto a fresh surface. Over the years, water has leaked into cracks, frozen and then heaved up creating bumps and gaps. The newly applied sealcoating will add as many as 15 years of life to each runway. “Through a pavement maintenance program with the Wisconsin DOT Bureau of Aeronautics, we routed all the cracks and filled them in with rubber compound to prevent additional water from seeping down into the sub-base,” Airport Director Peter Moll explained, “Then we had a Micro Coating® layer applied to the entire runway. It’s a thin polymer, similar to a slurry seal, but more effective.” Eighty percent of that project was covered by the State of WI Department of Bureau of Aeronautics, the funding for which comes primarily via fuel sales taxes and aircraft registration fees.
Another improved surface awaits arriving aircraft at Wittman’s fixed base operator (FBO), Basler Flight Service. Numerous failing concrete panels on the FBO’s ramp were replaced, and all expansion joints between the pavement squares were removed and replaced. Basler’s General Manager, Mary Garcia, said her crew and several customers have remarked positively on the new look and feel. “We love that our ramp has been repaired,” she said, “The crews started right after Memorial Day and they beat their deadline by about a week. They resurfaced our entryway and sidewalk and installed a new grate so water runs away from, instead of toward, the building. So we have safer, smoother access right into the front door.”
This ramp repair project was the result of a grant from the FAA under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which paid 90 percent of the $800,000 cost. The remaining 10% of the project cost was split between the Wisconsin DOT Bureau of Aeronautics, which paid 5% of the project, and Winnebago County, which paid 5% from income generated by the airport.
The Airport Layout Plan (ALP) was also recently updated through an FAA AIP grant. While most people are not aware of this planset and rarely see it, it is a planning document for future projects and development, in addition to being a snapshot of what exists currently on the airport. The most recent update included a complete utility plan of the airport grounds and further focused on future development in the northern terminal/FBO area.
FVTC Ramp Reconstruction and Future Hangar Area Updates
In 2012 the FVTC ramp was reconstructed. One more section of ramp is planned to be updated in the next two or three years. The ramp around the general aviation hangars at the airport’s north side will be updated, along with the hangars themselves.
A new perimeter road encircling the entire airport was completed last year. Extensions to the existing 30-year-old segments of roadway have been a welcome addition for the service and public safety vehicles that traverse the airport. One thousand feet south of the approach end of runway 36 the paved road connects the east and west halves—just far enough to be used without control tower approval, as is the entire roadway system. The undeveloped southernmost areas of the airport can be reached over a new gravel road along the very edge of the perimeter. Improved drainage, an essential part of this project, keeps water from ponding, thereby discouraging aviary infestation. After all, birds and aircraft are not the best of friends.
Occasional runway incursions are now reduced since the May, 2014 addition of new 10-foot tall fence installed alongside the new perimeter road. Whitetail deer used to be a regular sight on the airport side of the southern end of the field but this new taller fence has been able to keep the leaping deer at bay. The fence addition also allowed the airport to decrease the number of vehicle and pedestrian gates around the airport, thereby reducing the number of potential entry points for unauthorized vehicles and personnel.
Additionally, planespotters will have a more difficult time wandering unimpeded. Huss recalled one experience that made him, and everyone at FVTC, very glad for the new fence. “Several years ago we did have an incident where a family was getting way too close to the active airplanes,” the FVTC instructor said. “Enthusiasm itself is a good thing, but we need to do it in a safe way!”
New Business Park
In early 2013, a joint venture by Winnebago County, the City of Oshkosh, and Chamco (a public/private industrial development organization) acquired 80 acres of the available land, and work started in earnest to develop the land into a successful business park with the aim of bringing a variety of aviation businesses to Oshkosh and the surrounding region. The 80-acre parcel is subdivided into two halves; the western portion belonging to the county will have direct airport access. The eastern half of the new business park is owned by the city and those lots will be available for purchase by new businesses.
An exciting groundbreaking ceremony held on September 3, 2014 saw community leaders coming together to formally start the development of this exciting new project. The aviation business park will soon receive infrastructure installation by the City of Oshkosh, followed by the first of many new airport tenants. “Am I excited?” Airport Director Moll queried, “Absolutely!”
Aviation is alive and well—and growing—at Wittman Regional Airport.