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Olsson Airport team specializes in serving small communities; 'Field of Dreams' becomes a new airport for Lane County

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sarah Ferdico, Communications

Existing Buildings at Dighton AirportIt’s not often that a whole new airport is built from scratch. But leaders in Lane County, which is located in western Kansas, recently had the opportunity to do just that. Lane County representatives realized that the short runway at their Dighton Airport was limiting the services that the airport could provide to its residents. A railroad and power lines located nearby made runway expansion impossible. So Lane County partnered with Olsson Associates for the exciting job of re-imagining an airport with a clean slate and a vision for Lane County’s future.

“We love to build airports,” said Diane Hofer of Olsson’s Lincoln Airport team. “A new airport in a small community makes a big difference for the quality of life of the residents.”

Hofer has been developing airport services at Olsson for over 10 years. The team has 50 airport clients with services specifically targeted to help small communities between 1,000 and 50,000 residents. As smaller communities often do not have the necessary staff for airport planning and to find funding resources, Olsson can make the difference between those communities having just a dream of an airport and actually building or expanding an airport. 

For Dighton, Kansas, a community of 1,083 residents located in western Kansas, the new airport project began in 2010. The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) Division of Aviation awarded Lane County a grant for an airport feasibility and site selection study. Olsson worked with Lane County to confirm the need for a new airport and identified and evaluated three possible sites before making a final recommendation for the new airport location. Olsson completed this study in 2011. Based on this study, Olsson was able to complete another grant application, and Lane County was awarded KDOT funds for an Airport Development Plan.

Olsson completed the Airport Development Plan for Lane County in 2012. The plan provided a general engineering drawing for the airport and a cost estimate to illustrate the airport’s overall constructability on the selected site. This document was used to apply for KDOT funds to acquire the 320-acre site for the new airport. Lane County provided matching funds for the purchase.

In May 2013, a fourth grant was awarded for the new airport’s design. Olsson expects to have the design completed within six months. The next step will be a grant in 2014 to support grading the site. After this is complete, the airport will be operational with a grass runway by the fall of 2014. A possible grant in 2015 for runway paving will further enhance the new airport’s capabilities.

Airports are important for business attraction and retention, and proximity to an airport can be a factor for a company when selecting a business location. Further, when the airport is completed, a variety of new opportunities will become possible for Lane County. These opportunities include air ambulance flights and physician specialist visits, along with landing space for agricultural sprayers. The new airport will be an exciting addition to Dighton and reflects the strong support and vision from the Lane County Board.

Hofer offers a final comment on the satisfaction of working to bring such a significant amenity to a small community. She said, “As engineers, we realize that it’s important when we build a mile of new road. But, when we get to build airports, that’s really exciting. People appreciate roads, but communities celebrate and have ribbon cuttings for new airports—it’s a big deal.”

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