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U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Erwin F. Lessell III, front, and Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, back, break ground at the future site of a runway extension at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The runway project should be complete by the time Ramstein assumes the mission of Rhein-Main Air Base, which is slated to close in 2005.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Erwin F. Lessell III, front, and Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, back, break ground at the future site of a runway extension at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The runway project should be complete by the time Ramstein assumes the mission of Rhein-Main Air Base, which is slated to close in 2005. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Erwin F. Lessell III, front, and Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, back, break ground at the future site of a runway extension at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The runway project should be complete by the time Ramstein assumes the mission of Rhein-Main Air Base, which is slated to close in 2005.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Erwin F. Lessell III, front, and Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, back, break ground at the future site of a runway extension at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The runway project should be complete by the time Ramstein assumes the mission of Rhein-Main Air Base, which is slated to close in 2005. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

A plane prepares to take off at Ramstein Air Base Wednesday while construction crews work on the runway extension.

A plane prepares to take off at Ramstein Air Base Wednesday while construction crews work on the runway extension. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Increased air traffic from the to-be-closed Rhein-Main Air Base means Ramstein needs a bigger runway.

Earthmovers and tractors are busily plowing and prodding dirt on a runway extension at the base to help handle that overflow of planes from the base’s Frankfurt neighbor.

The runway is one of 37 projects that are part of the base’s Rhein-Main transition program.

The list of items to be built or renovated includes:

Runways.Taxiways.Aircraft parking ramps.Passenger and freight terminals.Hangars.Support facilities.Crews will also be making improvements to the base’s roads and infrastructure.

“Today we mark the beginning of a new era for Ramstein,” 86th Airlift Wing commander Brig. Gen. Edwin F. Lessel III said Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of what will soon become the runway overrun.

Once complete, the runway will be 10,560 feet long, with two overruns that will measure 660 feet.

The changes are necessary because the Air Force plans in 2005 to return Rhein-Main Air Base to the Germans, who plan to expand Frankfurt International Airport.

As part of the transition program, Rhein-Main’s airlift missions will be shifted to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases.

Spangdahlem will assume 35 percent of the Rhein-Main mission by the end of 2005, according to Master Sgt. Sean Cobb, 52nd Fighter Wing spokesman.

There are 23 construction projects planned at Spangdahlem, 14 of which are in progress. Spangdahlem’s major transition project is the construction of an aircraft parking ramp, which upon completion will be two miles long and be able to hold 11 large cargo planes.

“This parking ramp is going to allow us to handle heavies — cargo aircraft,” Cobb said.

“[Handling cargo aircraft] fits into our mission as the back-up for Ramstein.”

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