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Renovations Underway At Cold Bay Airport

U.S. Army Air Forces via Wikimedia Commons

Construction has begun at the Cold Bay Airport.

Built during World War II with one of the longest runways in the state, it's still one of the only airports in western Alaska that can handle major aircraft.

That's why the state is moving forward with a $13 million renovation of the facility.

"It has an importance to the state as well as to the commercial airline industry as an airport that can accept larger craft in an emergency," said Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT). "It's important that we keep the airport in good condition for the long term."

The rehab project will repave the main runway and tack on an additional 40 feet. It'll also construct a new taxiway, build a new apron, and replace runway edge lights.

Woodrow said the goal is to enhance safety and allow the airport to handle even more traffic.

He said those needs were highlighted last month, when an American Airlines jet flying from Shanghai to Chicago had to make an emergency landing in Cold Bay. Everything went smoothly, but he said it's important to be ready for events like that, which seem to happen every few years.

The airport upgrade will also benefit more than just international travelers. Cold Bay Mayor Candace Schaack said the renovation will help locals passing through on trips around the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.

"It'll add a lot," she said. "It's definitely a sign of growth and us being able to serve our region at an even higher capacity."

For instance, Schaack said the improvements will free up some space, allowing PenAir and Grant Aviation to move into the larger terminal.

"It's pretty exciting for those poor Unalaska passengers who have to make fuel stops here when the weather's bad," she said. "Sometimes they have to sit for a couple of hours and right now, the PenAir terminal is so small. It's working, but it's not the most comfortable situation." 

That'll change when construction is finished over the summer. Woodrow said the airport will operate normally in the meantime.

The DOT is funding a small part of the project, while federal dollars pay for 90 percent of the renovation. The Aleutians East Borough is covering costs for the taxiway and apron through a state grant. 

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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