Work underway to revamp Shiprock runway

By:  Noel Lyn Smith

SHIPROCK — Work started this week to rehabilitate the runway at the Shiprock Airstrip.

Carl Slater, manager for the Department of Airports Management at the Navajo Division of Transportation, said construction started Monday to renovate the runway, including new pavement and installing a lighting system.

The runway is 5,210 feet long and is part of the Shiprock Airstrip, located 6 miles south of the community's central business area on U.S. Highway 491.

Last year, the tribe received a $4.4 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Plan to renovate the runway. The project also received funding from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Navajo Nation.

Additional FAA grants were received in recent years, and those paid for an aeronautical survey and runway rehabilitation design.

"The pavement had deteriorated to such an extent that the FAA, as well as the nation advocating, deemed it a safety issue. Therefore, they put funds toward the reconstruction of the airstrip," Slater said.

He added that the new lighting will increase safety, and allow for evening and night time takeoffs and landings.

Medical flights by the Northern Navajo Medical Center are the primary activity at the airstrip, followed by those of other entities, including a flight training school, he said.

"We want to expand the operations of the airport and make it more useful to the community. That includes the medical center, but that also includes tourism," Slater said.

Work is scheduled for 60 days, and the runway is closed until construction is complete.

Jim Ratliff, area superintendent for Four Corners Materials, said crew members have started milling the existing asphalt.

Work includes placing six inches of new road base and four inches of new asphalt along with heightening the runway's shoulders, Ratliff said.

The runway in Shiprock is the first among the tribe's airstrips and airports to receive an update.

Slater said work to renovate the airport in Window Rock, Arizona, will start in August.

On Thursday, U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced in a joint press release that 26 airports in New Mexico received $23 million from the FAA's Airport Improvement Program.

The list includes $300,000 for the Crownpoint Airport to rehabilitate 5,820 feet of runway and $115,000 for the Aztec Municipal Airport to install a new runway lighting system and to design a new vertical and visual guidance system.