The Monett airport is unusual for a rural facility in that airplane traffic since 1990 has grown at a rate of 13 percent annually for planes based at the facility and 17 percent for the number of planes based elsewhere flying in and out. Waller said the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) recognizes the Monett facility as a regional airport.
When the city requested a new airport identifier name to change from the somewhat non-descriptive M58, the new name was given a HFJ, shorthand for "halfway to Joplin," indicating the strategic significance of the airport's location. In forecasting future growth at the airport, Waller said demand factors were studied in Barry, Lawrence and Newton counties.
"The base fleet at the airport should double in the next 20 years," Waller said.
Anticipating significant growth, the 20-year master plan looked at the size of the aircraft likely to be used by the major industries in the future. The next generation of planes, 60 feet long with wing spans of up to 70 feet, are heavier than those used now and would demand a longer and more durable runway, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines.
New runway rationale
Consequently MoDOT urged the city to upgrade to a C-2 classification with a 6,000-foot runway. The current runway, extending a little over 5,000 feet, cannot be lengthened because the FAA now says there has to be 100 feet between the taxiway and the runway. At the time of its construction 10 years ago, the current runway was built at a distance of 75 feet from the taxiway.
Under the new master plan, Waller said the current runway can become the airport's new taxiway. The current taxiway, recently upgraded from asphalt to concrete, can become a parking and tie-down area for visiting planes. Having the current runway in an upgrade will mean the airport will not have to shut down during construction, except when connecting strips are built between the two, Waller said.
Waller acknowledged the frustration at having to build a new runway because the current one is not far enough away from the taxiway under standards for the next class of airport. He said FAA requirements for airports have changed eight times in the last 11 years.
Unlike a decade ago, computer analysis now takes in many more factors. The current requirements should address Monett's needs for the next five years, the time needed to put construction plans into motion. Waller stressed the master plan could be altered at that point if federal guidelines change.
Additional land will have to be acquired to the south to extend the runway. A county road running across the proposed south end of the runway would stay, Waller said, but it would be moved 100 feet.
The city would have to buy land 400 feet west of the current airport property. Small pieces of land beyond the runway both to the north and the south would need to be acquired as a safety zone for aircraft though it could continue to be used for agriculture.
Initial studies have not shown any environmental restrictions or historical structures that would restrict the latest airport plans. Waller said the Army Corps of Engineers identified Capps Creek as a nearby flood plain to the south and probably would want another study to look for possible impact from the airport plan.
Another priority in the master plan will be controlling the air space around the airport. Waller said the main focus will be on a 10-mile corridor extending south from the runway, which will be the primary direction for take-offs. The city will want to limit the construction of taller buildings and towers, at least for a specified distance from the runway itself.
Similar concern will extend to a 20,000-foot radius or four statutory miles around the airport. This circle will include Pierce City. Waller said designers tried to find a way to limit overflights of Pierce City in future plans for the airport, even by angling the runway in a different direction. They concluded the FAA probably would not approve any unnecessary modifications.
Most of the funding for airport upgrading would be available from federal funds. Waller said the city already reaches $250,000 a year in discretionary funds now and can only save around $600,000 of that at a time.
In looking ahead to a multi-year project with the master plan completed, MoDOT would prioritize its aviation funds. Monett could be in line to receive "several million or tens of millions of dollars" toward its upgrade, Waller said.
The overall master plan would cost $34 million to complete, "in the best case scenario," Waller said. Roughly $5 million of that would be local funds and the rest would be federal and state money. The master plan identified 12 improvements to be made in the next five years costing approximately $4.3 million.
Mayor Jim Orr said one question facing the city council will be spending money on expanding use of the current runway. At one point the FAA had cut off the airport's use of 475 feet at the north end of the runway due to concerns about a building to the north of the airport. Waller said the city had appealed that decision and recently received approval to use the runway space again for take-offs to the south.
Bringing the runway space into full use would still cost around $500,000, the mayor said, converting it from asphalt to concrete. He said council members had not decided if that was a good use of funds for a section of runway that will be converted to taxiway once the new runway is built.
A variety of additional T-hangars and clear-span common hangars for bigger planes would be needed over time at the airport. These would have to be paid for with local money, Waller said. Bigger hangars could be built by private investors, such as local industries, then leased back by the city.
As passenger traffic increases, Waller calculated current terminal space would not be adequate to handle the flow. However, he said most of the traffic would be moving through facilities such as the Jack Henry hangars. He thought the present size of the city hangar would be sufficient for the foreseeable future.
Orr said the process beginning the master plan revision started in the summer of 2008. Jack Henry planes had become limited in leaving Monett. Planes were flying elsewhere to fuel after leaving Monett due to the runway length available to lift off with a load of passengers and fully fueled, thus costing the city fuel sales.
One of the first steps needed in an upgrade was to improve the airport's weather observation facility. Plans were made to do that but as the master plan took shape, a new weather station would be needed on a location not yet owned by the city. Orr praised Airport Superintendent Howard Frazier for keeping the old station running, even though parts for it are no longer made.
Those who served on the planning advisory committee for the master plan were acknowledged at the meeting. Recognized were Brian Hunter, Rick Sherer, Mark Costley, Nathan Hoyt, Bobby Pittman, David Gouldsmith, Airport Commissioner Mike Brownsberger, City Administrator Dennis Pyle, Howard Frazier and Mayor Orr.
Formal city council action accepting the master plan is expected in January.