Gravel work at the Ennis-Big Sky Airport Aug. 6. PHOTO BY HANNAH KEARSE

Ready for asphalt

Ennis-Big Sky Airport update

The Ennis-Big Sky Airport plans to reopen its runway by Sept. 28. Intermittent closures for further improvements will continue into 2021.

Federal grant funding is covering the $15 million improvement project, which broke ground in April. The airport has experienced substantial growth in traffic from higher performance and larger aircraft over the last decade. Federal Aviation Administration regulations required the Ennis-Big Sky Airport to improve its ability to accommodate its current traffic.

“The largest business class jets are already landing here,” Ennis-Big Sky Airport Engineer Project Manager Lance Bowser said.

According to Bowser, the Ennis-Big Sky Airport hit the threshold of its current Federal Aviation grade two years ago, with more than 500 aircrafts landing annually. For two consecutive years, the airport growth rate has increased by 30 percent.

“We anticipate for that to continue,” Bowser said.

The planning of this project started nearly six years ago. Master plans were drawn up, an environmental assessment was completed and land acquisitions were purchased, before groundwork could begin.

The construction site is abundant in natural gravel, which will be crushed, mixed, heated and laid at the airport in the upcoming weeks. The earthwork was nearly completed as of Aug. 10. The old runway’s hill was dug out by 30 feet. Thick dirt edges traced a 7,600-foot-long oval. The farthest side of the dirt oval, closer to the Madison Range, will be the runway and the other side, closer to the airport building, will be the taxiway. Each way was expanded to 100 feet wide.

The airport’s aprons and hangars were expanded to accommodate more aircraft. According to Bowser, most of the larger jets are air-taxis that do not park at the airport for more than a few hours. He said that about 15 larger aircraft will be able to park at the Ennis-Big Sky airport at any given time. Space for hangars has been laid out for Madison County to lease to plane owners.

The improvement project has spent over half of its funding and is on track with its progress. At completion, 80,400 square feet of pavement will have been replaced and another 91,800 square feet of pavement repaired. The airport’s rotating beacon and guidance systems will be replaced, fencing will be expanded and improved, and the runway will be seven times longer than it was previously.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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