WESTFIELD- The official ribbon cutting and opening of runway 15-33 at Westfield Barnes Regional Airport was held Wednesday morning in a socially distant ceremony.
The 5,000-foot runway had not been reconstructed since the 1970s. The City of Westfield, MassDOT, and the Federal Aviation Administration collaborated to fund the $7.6 million project with the FAA footing 90 percent of the bill according to Airport Manager Chris Willenborg. The city and MassDOT each funded approximately five percent of the project.
“This airport is a tremendous economic engine for the community and for the Commonwealth,” said Willenborg, “This airport generates over 2,100 direct and indirect jobs with an economic output of more than $236 million a year.”
He said that the success of the city-owned airport is possible because of its tenants, which most famously includes the 104th Fighter Wing.
Willenborg said the project to reconstruct runway 15-33 began in April and ended on Tuesday both under budget and ahead of schedule. The general contractor was ET&L Corp based in Stowe, Vt.. The airport engineering firm that helped with the project was Airport Solutions Group based in Burlington, Vt.
Westfield Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr., who once chaired the Massachusetts Aviation Caucus while he was still working in the State House, touted the project in a speech before the ribbon cutting.
“We’re here to celebrate the repair of 15-33. The fact that an old runway can be made new again can only be good for business and can only be good for all of us here at Barnes,” said Humason.
State Sen. John C. Velis, the incoming co-chair of the aviation caucus, said that Barnes Airport adds a lot to the Westfield community.
“The economic driver of this place is absolutely impossible to overstate,” said Velis.
He pointed out how service members and airport employees are often seen at local businesses and supporting the local economy.
FAA New England Region Administrator Colleen D’Alessandro talked about the impact COVID-19 on the aviation industry, including the 80 percent decrease in airline passenger traffic since the pandemic began.
“Our doors [The FAA] remain open 24/7. The mission for safety hasn’t missed a beat since many of our administrative facilities, mine included, have switched to a maximum telework posture,” said D’Alessandro, “So our operational facilities such our air traffic control towers have been staffed and operational this entire time.”
She said that air traffic has slowly been trending back towards normal levels since the peak lows earlier in the pandemic, though it may take awhile before things are completely back to normal.
MassDot Aeronautics Director of Engineering Tom Mahoney said that the runway project being finished under budget and ahead of schedule is “exceptional in this day and age.”
Following the speeches and ribbon cutting, several local propeller plane pilots were given the honor of being the first to take off from the newly reconstructed runway.