The Laurel Municipal Airport located near Billings, MT is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the state. With approximately 40,000 annual operations (takeoffs or landings) and nearly 100 aircrafts based in Laurel, the airport is used daily by small aircraft for training, business, and recreation. The airport is a popular training facility used daily by Northern Skies Aviation, Rocky Mountain College, and many student pilots working on their private certifications. The airport is also used extensively by local and itinerant pilots for business and pleasure.
In 2008, KLJ, in collaboration with the Laurel Airport Authority, completed a master plan for the airport. In 2015, various components of the original master plan, such as forecasts, alternatives, and implementation plan were updated to reflect current FAA standards and existing conditions. Major components of the master plan included evaluating alternatives for a new crosswind runway and collecting wind data, as many of the small aircraft had a difficult time landing in crosswinds. After evaluation, it was determined the airport needed to build a crosswind runway to ensure small aircraft had a safe way to land when strong crosswinds made landing on the primary runway difficult.
Knowing that a functional and safe airport is a vital asset for the community, the Airport Authority and KLJ began an extensive planning and evaluation process. In 2008, KLJ created a master plan for the Laurel Municipal Airport and updated the plan again in 2015. At the time, it was determined the crosswind runway was an important component to implement and a wind study was completed.
FAA recommends airports consider a crosswind runway if the airport has less than 95 percent wind coverage due to the difficulty landing a small aircraft in a strong crosswind. For small aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds, crosswinds are limited to 10.5 knots or about 12 miles per hour. Laurel had 93.72 percent coverage, meaning crosswinds exceed 10.5 knots approximately 6.28 percent of the time, posing a potentially hazardous situation for small aircraft.
In 2016, the Environmental Assessment was completed. That same year, KLJ provided acquisition services acquiring 866-acres from the state of Montana. This involved managing the appraisal and acquisition process to assure the land was acquired in accordance with the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Policies Act. Construction of the crosswind runway started in August 2017 and was completed in September 2018.
After a considerable amount of planning, design, and construction, the Laurel Municipal Airport now has a safe alternative when strong crosswinds are present. The project was completed on time with substantial completion on September 15, 2018. Actual construction took about 13 months, including a winter shutdown. This project has enhanced the safety and utility of the airport by providing a second runway option for aircraft.