Alexander Field – South Wood County Airport in Wisconsin Rapids (KISW) may seem like an unsuspecting destination for luxury jets, privately chartered planes and award-winning, fly-in golfing. Originally built for Tri-Cities Airways—a subsidiary of Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company—in 1928, the general aviation airport covers approximately 435 acres and is home to three runways located on the southwestern edge of Wisconsin Rapids. Turned over to municipal and county management in the 1960s, KISW found itself experiencing the same thing as many other GA airports: a decline in activity. Funding fell short. Use dwindled. Pavement quality of runways and taxiways deteriorated.
In 2015, however, something changed.
Airport staff and patrons began hearing rumblings of an upscale golf resort being constructed in the neighboring community of Nekoosa, a short 25-minute drive from the Alexander Field airport. Courses were being designed by renowned architects and vacationers were expected to be arriving soon, many with the money and the means to fly local.
The existing layout of the airfield pavements at KISW was not suited to safely or effectively withstand the anticipated exponential increase in transient and jet aircraft operations. Nor was the facility equipped to host an influx of planes parked on the premises, especially those of a larger size. The Alexander Field South Wood County Airport Commission and Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics (WBOA) partnered with MSA to begin to build the foundation for what would become an immense airport transformation, with tight project timelines and continuous years of construction. Indeed, the tide for this small central Wisconsin airport was about to make an advantageous turn.
Comprehensive planning for safe airport operations
Any airport renovation project for anticipated growth requires thoughtful and thorough planning measures. Important questions must be asked: Will the growth be sustainable? Will investments in improvements be cost-effective in the long term? What are the top priorities for upgrades to provide customers with the best service?
At Alexander Field, planning began immediately in 2015. Over the course of two years, MSA worked with the airport commission and the WBOA to define their aspirations for the airport. During this process, one critical theme kept recurring: safety. As a result of the intensive investigatory and planning process, multiple projects were identified as critical infrastructure upgrades and selected to move on to the development phase. These were planned in phases to coincide with Federal and State funding opportunities, leveraging upcoming project costs with the ultimate goal of enhancing safety and preparing for projected growth.
Phase one: partial taxiway and runway reconstruction
Phase one began in the fall of 2017. The project involved removal of the direct access route to the runway in order to allow for construction of a partial parallel taxiway that would service the airport’s secondary Runway 12/30 and the terminal apron. This addressed one of the more pressing safety concerns: the existing layout of airfield pavements provided only one direct access route to the terminal area from one of the active runways (non-compliant with the FAA Advisory Circular standards) and allowed only back taxiing down the runways after landing. Aircraft were forced to turn 180 degrees on the runway in order to taxi back to the apron and terminal area, an operation that is more difficult and progressively unsafe as the length and wingspan of the aircraft increases.
The following spring, work began on the reconstruction and widening of that same secondary runway, along with finalization of the partial parallel taxiway. These two projects provided the airport with timely relief and an increase in navigational safety while preparing for the two larger of the four projects that were being designed in concurrence.
Phase two: expanded apron and plentiful parking
As 2018 progressed, the airport was already seeing an increase in operations. The first golf course at the new, upscale resort had opened in 2017, with two additional courses in May of 2018, all of which were earning high accolades from golf professionals and “Best New Course” honors from publications including Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. Numbers for daily aircraft operations were increasing by the month, as were Avgas and Jet A fuel sales and the number of aircraft based at Alexander Field.
To meet the area’s accelerating growth, the timeline for the last two of the planned projects was expedited. An increase in jet traffic necessitated an expansion of the existing 7,000-square-yard terminal apron to allow for a forecasted 20 jet aircraft the opportunity to park safely. MSA designed a layout that expanded the apron by 30,000 square yards, included another access route to the terminal apron and provided two large concrete parking pads to accommodate the anticipated heavier jet aircraft.
It was also identified that the pavement on primary Runway 2/20 was still about five years away from being eligible for reconstruction, however, had developed many transverse cracks that were simply too large to maintain—and with the projected traffic increase—would not safely handle aircraft for that many years. MSA proposed milling and patching the large cracks, followed by a 1.5-inch overlay to provide the necessary fix until the runway becomes eligible for full reconstruction. These upgrades to spacing and safety allowed KISW to meet FAA standards while alleviating the strain on airport staff and pilots for parking multiple aircraft. The $3 million project was completed in fall of 2018.
Phase three: new full taxiway and navigational support
The most recent improvement for the airport was the construction of a full taxiway, parallel to the 5,500-foot primary Runway 2/20 in the spring of 2019. This new taxiway allows airport users the ability to taxi safely from the runway. The result is a reduction in pilot confusion about where to navigate, the opportunity for aircraft to exit from active runways earlier and in a more orderly fashion, and enhanced airport circulation around airfield pavements. This final project was completed in August 2019.
A complete, elevated customer experience
All told, the Alexander Field – South Wood County Airport has seen over $10 million in airport improvements over a short period of time, welcoming pilots and guests into the heart of the Midwest with a safe, efficient and elevated customer experience. And, their renewed reputation is not going unnoticed; the planes keep coming: Gulfstream G450s, Citation Mustangs and CJ2s, Dassault Falcons, King Airs, Embraer Phenom 300s, Canadair Challengers and Gulfstream G IVs, to name a few. Private jets, turboprops, high wings, taildraggers and experimentals, whether you’re flying in for a round of golf or a weekend at the cabin, Alexander Field is ready to accommodate and welcome you all.