Brian Wilcox is taking a glass half-full approach to the Antelope County Airport’s $2.7 million runway improvement project this summer.
Arguably the aviator most affected by having the east-west runway replaced, it would seem understandable for the Tilden ag pilot to be upset with having to move his entire loading operation during his busiest season.
Instead Wilcox, who owns Wilcox Flying Service, said he’s working through the obstacles and looking forward to the new runway, which will be 10 feet wider and made of concrete.
“It’ll be worth it in the end. We all have inconveniences, but I’m working around it,” Wilcox said. “As soon as the project started, I had to move my loading operation over to the main ramp by the parking area for general aviation. It was an inconvenience because all of my equipment is on the other side. Everything had to be moved over, including fuel.”
Joe McNally, who serves as secretary and treasurer of the Antelope County Airport Authority, said the project comes with a price tag of $2,790,242, most of which is from federal funding. McNally said just $125,000 is bonded for the project. The rest comes from the state and cash on hand.
McNally said the runway, which will be completed in September, will be extended from 50 to 60 feet to create a safer runway for taking off and landing planes. The previous runway was asphalt but the new one will be concrete. Also included in the project are new runway lights for night visibility.
A&R Construction of Osmond is serving as the general contractor.
“This project is important because the airport not only serves Antelope County, but also because it gets a lot of transient traffic,” McNally said. “There are a lot of people who stop for fuel and to eat. This is a good thing for the town. There’s no other airport in the county, so it’s a good asset for the community.”
McNally and Wilcox, who are both pilots, said the old runway was in poor condition. Wilcox said there were cracks three inches wide and six inches deep.
Wilcox, who flies about 600 hours a year off that runway, is now working off of a portable pad. He said the largest share of those hours are in July and August when spraying fields.
“The runway needed improved,” he said. “It’s a big asset to Antelope County and to the surrounding counties for the operators who work off of it for ag. Sometimes you have to turn lemons into lemonade. It’s an inconvenience but worth it in the end.”
McNally said several big projects have occurred in the last 10 years, including repaving the north-south runway and also connecting the taxiways and adding new lights.
As for how the millings from the old runway will be used, McNally said they now belong to A&R Construction. He said after the project is complete, the asphalt will be crushed and sold. McNally said both the airport and the City of Neligh are interested in purchasing some of the millings.
Despite the work on the runway, Neligh's firework display on the Fourth of July for Old Mill Days will still be at the airport. However, the Stop Light Drags will not take place this year, according to the Neligh Young Men’s Club.