2008-04-12 / News

Renovations Are Nearly Complete at Mackinac Island Airport Terminal

By Karen Gould

Soon, the Mackinac Island Airport terminal will receive new siding, scaffolding that hides the new double-door entryway will be gone, and the carriage porch will be finished. The building is undergoing $500,000 in renovations. Soon, the Mackinac Island Airport terminal will receive new siding, scaffolding that hides the new double-door entryway will be gone, and the carriage porch will be finished. The building is undergoing $500,000 in renovations. For the more than 14,500 passengers who climb in and out of planes at the Mackinac Island Airport each year, working their way through the terminal's bottlenecked entry will now be a thing of the past. Reconfiguring both entrances, adding a covered carriage porch to the front of the terminal, and shifting rooms inside are just a few of many improvements that have been made during nearly two years of renovations that cost about $500,000.

Completion is expected by summer, with an official opening ceremony planned in July.

Last year, 8,620 landings took place at the Island airport, bringing visitors on charter planes, private aircraft, and flights from St. Ignace.

The project is funded with federal money channeled through the Michigan Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aeronautics. Mackinac Island State Park Commission operates the airport, which is on state park land. Most of the work is being performed by park staff.

Waiting for a flight in the newly completed lobby of the Mackinac Island Airport are Kim Nabozny of Petoskey (left) and Cindy Litzner of St. Ignace. Waiting for a flight in the newly completed lobby of the Mackinac Island Airport are Kim Nabozny of Petoskey (left) and Cindy Litzner of St. Ignace. The project began in 2006, when electrical utilities were moved out of the building to a newly constructed electric vault hidden in trees nearby. The relocation opened up more space within the terminal.

The lobby has been shifted to the west side, and the building has been extended by 12 feet.

Passengers arriving at the Mackinac Island Airport will find more conveniences this year. Vestibules at the entrances offer protection from weather. The vestibules, which have a taxi phone, are never locked, although entry to the public waiting area closes at 7 p.m.

The carpeted lobby is complete with cushioned chairs, a television, vending machines, and a microwave oven. Restrooms are reached by a hallway that leads to the pilots' room. There, a desk and computer equipment offer pilots a place to make flight plans and study weather conditions.

UPS shipping manager Sara Chambers and teamster Ray Card prepare to meet a planeload of packages Wednesday, February 27. The pair will sort the arriving items in the new covered freight receiving area at Mackinac Island Airport. UPS shipping manager Sara Chambers and teamster Ray Card prepare to meet a planeload of packages Wednesday, February 27. The pair will sort the arriving items in the new covered freight receiving area at Mackinac Island Airport. An new office offers a bay window with a full view of the runway, taxi area, and a lobby for Dennis Bradley, airport manager.

Doors at both sides of the public area help with traffic flow and better meet passenger needs, said Mr. Bradley, which vary between summer and winter. Summer travelers keep track of their own luggage, and often have little need to enter the terminal, with more charter flights and private planes operating. About half of the planes landing on the Island make the stop during May through September.

During the winter, the airport is the only gateway to the Island. This winter, the new layout design and lobby were tested once the boat stopped transporting workers and visitors between the Island and St. Ignace in January.

"It's working very well," said Mr. Bradley. "It's not only bigger, it's more comfortable, and people can move in and out of the building much easier."

In the winter, workers tend to quickly pass through the terminal, said Mr. Bradley, on their way to the plane or to their snowmobiles, which they keep parked at the airport. The workers have a routine and not all of them arrive at the same time.

Winter visitors tend to be less familiar with the Island, he said, and may linger longer in the terminal, gathering luggage and arranging for taxi service. When departing, with one plane operating in the colder months, ski clubs and other group visitors require more care in making sure luggage and passengers are matched and loaded onto the same plane.

The busiest time this year was Friday, February 15, when 57 trips were made to the Island by visitors arriving for the chili cook off and weekend crosscounty skiing. The airport averages 35 landings each day during the winter, with planes carrying packages, freight, mail, residents, and workers.

When freight is unloaded from planes, it is moved to a new covered area on the west end of the terminal, where it is sorted before being loaded onto horse-drawn drays. The work was previously done in the open. Now workers like Sara Chambers, shipping manager for the Island UPS office, can receive packages while sheltered from rain and snow. Working under the protective roof, driver Ray Card is able to organize deliveries before loading packages onto his dray. In inclement weather, the boxes are covered with a heavy-duty blue tarp.

"Everything out here is working really good this winter," said Sara Chambers. "Everything is under cover and not getting wet. It's really a great working area."

A new carriage porch has been constructed in the arrival area at the front of the terminal. The semi-circle drive allows taxi service to drop off or pick up passengers and luggage under the protection of the roof. In fact, passengers now can walk around the entire outside of the terminal under the protection of a covered walkway.

A morning dedication ceremony to coincide with the park commission meeting is tentatively planned for July 25.

The next project for the Mackinac Island airport is the rehabilitation of the runway. The asphalt is about 18 years old, and the subsurface is approximately 40 years old. The runway was last paved in 1989.

"This," said Mr. Porter, "is the most pressing need at the airport right now."

The project also will address three safety issues with the tarmac, which will include leveling, geological spaces in the ground beneath the landing strip will be filled, and the runway is too close to the fence at the west side of the airport.

A hump on the 3,500-foot long runaway will be leveled. The small hill creates a line of sight problem for pilots, which has the potential to be hazardous.

The geological voids in the bedrock beneath the west end of the runway have caused sink holes to form on the tarmac. The spaces will be filled in an effort to eliminate the development of sinkholes in the future.

Survey work revealed the fence is about 65 feet too close to the end of the runway in the runway safety area. Regulations require that no object of any kind can be within 300 feet of the strip. When the runway is rehabilitated, it will be shifted 65 feet to the east, where state land is available. The fence cannot be moved because the property to the west is private and moving the fence could impact Forest Driveway. The shift will not affect landing patterns, said Mr. Porter. Airplanes will continue to cross over British Landing Road at the same height they did before. Crossings over Forest Driveway and the properties at the west end of the airport will be higher.

Once the funding is confirmed and secured, the work is expected to take place in the spring of 2010. The airport will be closed during the project.

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