Stillwater Regional Airport has undergone quite a few changes in the past few years and with the addition of commercial air service, that trend seems likely to continue. Even before the airport added 2-3 commercial flights a day, it had a high volume of take-offs and landings, known in aviation terms as operations.

Based on its operation numbers, Stillwater is the fourth busiest airport in the state, Airport Director Paul Priegel said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that Stillwater’s airport will be receiving $5.2 million this year from the Federal Aviation Administration to reconstruct the paved apron surfaces in its operations area.

It’s part of $840 million in airport infrastructure grants awarded as the first allotment of the agency’s $3.18 billion nationwide Airport Improvement Program. The grants will fund infrastructure projects at 381 airports in 47 states, including Richard Lloyd Jones Jr. Airport in Tulsa and Stillwater Regional Airport.

“This significant investment in airport improvements at these Oklahoma airports will fund construction and rehabilitation projects that will help maintain high levels of safety in U.S. aviation,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement released Wednesday.

The funding Stillwater receives will replace asphalt surfaces on the airport’s apron, the area where aircraft are parked, loaded, fueled and boarded, with full-strength concrete. The asphalt surface, which Priegel says is almost original, just doesn’t have the strength to hold up to the weight of heavier planes, especially in the warmer months.

The airport has already cut out patches of the asphalt and replaced them with concrete pads where commercial jets are loaded and unloaded, Priegel said. The asphalt was sinking and creating ruts where the landing gear sits.

Priegel said larger aircraft, like the 737 charter planes that fly Oklahoma State University teams to their away games, can only be parked on certain parts of the apron that are stronger because they sit over the old taxiway.

The apron resurfacing is part of a four-phase project that will begin on the north end of the airport and move south as it continues. The first two phases will replace the current apron surface and the last two phases will increase its footprint and expand the terminal space.

Priegel said airport officials hope to break ground on a new commercial terminal in 2024. The terminal project is estimated at $12 million and an FAA grant is expected to cover 90% of that cost.

Stillwater Regional Airport has already made improvements to several of its taxiways in recent years under a separate grant. That three-phase project is ongoing and about to enter the final phase.

Priegel said the Stillwater Regional Airport Authority has also gone to bid for a consultant to create a new master plan for the facility. The current plan was last updated in 2008, before the addition of commercial air service and a new flight center and before Western Road approaching the airport was widened.

An airport master plan looks out about 20 years, he said. It prevents staff from making decisions then realizing they have to go back and tear out something that was recently done. It ensures that money is used efficiently.

“I take pride in that,” Priegel said. “Every decision that I make, I want to be able to justify to the citizens and the City Council.”

Twitter: @mcharlesNP