Fly MHK Forever

A summer of disruption will lead to limitless potential at the Manhattan Regional Airport

When it comes to the economic vitality of an area, few things prove more instrumental than a reliable airport. The Manhattan Regional Airport, colloquially known as Fly MHK, has accelerated the growth of the Flint Hills region, and the time has come for a major runway reconstruction project. 

The airport’s longest runway - 3/21 - was last extended, widened, and paved 44 years ago in 1979. In that time since, the 7,000 ft. by 150 ft. primary runway has seen a tremendous volume of aircraft: commercial and military jets, private aircraft, small charters, drones, and helicopters. Amid five daily flights to Dallas and Chicago, consistent military traffic with Fort Riley, and over 150,000 passengers flying in-and-out of the airport in 2022 alone, Fly MHK has become the second busiest airport in the state of Kansas. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently requires airport pavement structures to be designed to support at least 20 years of aircraft traffic. Fly MHK’s preventative maintenance program has enabled the airport to far exceed this minimum requirement. With the current life of runway 3/21, and the crosswind runway 13/21 — a smaller, 5,000 foot x 75’ airstrip foot — both nearing 50 years of age, it is imperative this project must happen. 

The Kansas City-based company Clarkson Construction is taking on the project in four phases. Phase 1 began in September 2022 and was completed in March. This included tree removal, dirt work, site prep, and obstruction mitigation. Phase 2A and 2B began in March and will run until May 12, encompassing groundwork and the first removal of existing runway pavement. In Phase 3, the entire airfield will officially close and the intersection between the two runways will be redone. The smaller runway will reopen on July 19, initializing Phase 4, which will see the finishing of utilities, plus the final touches of the project until August 31.  

For the new pavement, Clarkson Construction will use a technique called rubblization, which involves breaking up old pavement, while turning it into a fine, light base layer. It will then be smoothed out, and then a stabilizing base, made of asphalt and concrete, will be placed. Above the stabilizing base, a third and final layer will be added. When finished, the new airstrip will average 13-14 inches in depth.  

From May 5 until September 5, air service from American Airlines will be suspended, but the Fixed Base Operators (FBO) will be open, as will the airspace to helicopter traffic. Even though commercial service will not be running, the purchase of airline tickets from September 5 and beyond is currently ongoing and encouraged. 

To help pay for the $30 million project, the airport, which is owned and operated by the city of Manhattan, has accepted two federal grants. One is from the FAA, and the other is from the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program. These two grants will cover 90% of the costs, with the remaining $3 million to be covered by local sales tax funds.

“What I am most excited about is getting it done, because I know it’s going to be disruptive for the community,” says Brandon Keazer, FLY MHK Airport Director. “This is the first time American Airline Service has ever been suspended since it started in 2008. So getting through this project, having a brand new runway that can last this community for the next 20 or 30 years, 40 plus years, and then seeing the development that comes from that will be great.” 

Phase 1: September 2022 to March 2023

  •  Tree removal, civil work, site prep, and obstruction mitigation.

Phase 2A/2B: March 28 to May 12 

  • Eastern end civil work and first pavement removal.

Phase 3: May 12 to July 19

  • Entire airfield will close and American Airlines service will be suspended. Airspace remains open to helicopter operations.

Phase 4:  July 19 to August 31

  •  Smaller runway will reopen; larger runway remains closed.

"Airports are basically the front door to a community, and that door has lasted us for over 40 years. Imagine what Manhattan looked like in 1979, and compare that to where it is now. A lot of community growth has happened through that front door, and that front door is old and must be replaced." - Brandon Keazer, Fly MHK Airport Director 

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