CONCORD, N.H. – It has been the runway to presidents, statesmen and soldiers, and it’s getting a major overhaul.
The 2-mile-long Runway 16-34 at Portsmouth Airport at Pease was designated one of seven airstrips worldwide where the space shuttle could land if a takeoff was aborted, and it was long enough to accommodate the Concorde supersonic plane.
The runway, says airport manager Bill Hopper, is the last U.S. soil that thousands of soldiers nationwide set foot on when they deploy and the first they step on when they return — always to scores of cheering volunteers.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Executive Council last week voted to spend $2.4 million to repair pavement and drainage on the runway and to reroute a perimeter road the Federal Aviation Administration deems too close to the runway. The FAA is funding nearly 95 percent of the project, with the balance coming from the state.
“Any aircraft in the world could operate here,” said Hopper, including the Airbus A380 — the world’s largest commercial aircraft that can accommodate up to 853 passengers.
Pease, a former Air Force base that was shuttered in 1991, and its Air National Guard 157th Refueling Wing were selected this spring to be home to Boeing KC-46 refueling tankers now in production. The midair tankers are expected to arrive in late 2017 or early 2018 and bring 100 jobs to the base.
Every sitting U.S. president in recent history has landed at the airport, with the elder George Bush frequently parking Air Force One there when he summered in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Hopper notes that New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary brings a huge influx of business and that Middle East leaders frequently flew to Pease when meeting with Bush and other U.S. leaders.
Hopper said the $2.4 million repair project may involve some nighttime closings on the runway, but much of the work will be to drainage systems alongside the runway.