The controversial reconstruction of the main runway at the Duluth International Airport will start this spring, after all.

That’s the result of a month of intensive discussions between airport officials, the city of Duluth and AAR Aircraft Services to find a window when the runway closure wouldn’t unduly disrupt AAR’s servicing of Air Canada Airbus jets at its maintenance, repair and overhaul base at the airport.

The initial plan, approved by the Duluth Airport Authority a month ago, called for the deteriorating 10,200-foot runway to be shut down for two months this spring so the first of three phases of reconstruction could be completed while the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing, based in Duluth, is deployed.

At that meeting, Mark Ketterer, AAR’s vice president of operations in Duluth, had said that if AAR had to close down, it could leave Duluth, taking hundreds of jobs with it.

The airport board gave staff about a month to try to work out an 11th hour solution.

Efforts were successful and the board on Tuesday approved a change order that divided the first phase of reconstruction - the 6,200-foot middle section - into two parts to be completed over two years.

The main runway will be closed from June 1-22 while 18 percent of the middle section is reconstructed. That’s a narrow 5,100-foot strip that’s 30 feet wide, or one-fifth of the runway’s 150-foot width.

Getting it done in three weeks will require crews to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it will add $3 million to the $4.3 million being sought from the state for the $43.4 million project.

That $3 million will go to the project’s contractor, PCiRoads of St. Michael, Minn., for the accelerated construction schedule and as compensation for the altered project timeline.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he’s comfortable asking for the additional amount from the state legislature, since necessary changes are often made to projects, increasing costs.

AAR, which has 375 employees in Duluth, looked at its maintenance schedule, considered what would work and reached out to its sole Duluth customer, Air Canada. It found a window of opportunity by shuffling planes between Duluth and its maintenance base in Miami, Ketterer said.

“It took a lot of work from a lot of people, but Dave Montgomery is really the key that pulled it all together,” said Ketterer, referring to Duluth’s chief executive officer. “He’s the one who really made it happen.”

The remainder of the runway’s middle section would be done in 2017. That pushes construction of the the ends of the runway - phases two and three - into 2017 and 2018.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s commitment to fund 90 percent of the project’s cost still stands, despite the delays, Reinert said.

"The FAA is willing to work with the airport on the funding,” he said. “Changing the phases does not appear to interrupt that stream of revenues."

But more negotiations will be needed before the remainder of the first phase can be done next year. The revised work order approved Tuesday calls for that segment to be done over 60 consecutive days, after the 2017 Duluth Air & Aviation Expo in early June and before Oct. 1.

That took Ketterer by surprise on Tuesday.

“A 60-days closure is not good for us,” he said. “It would have to be done in segments.”

Scott Sannes, principal of Short Elliot Hendrickson in Duluth, the project engineer, acknowledged the problem.

“We have more than a year to plan with AAR,” he said. “Fourteen months is adequate time.”

The project will begin as intended while the 148th is deployed to Korea. Neither the 148th’s military jets nor Air Canada’s fleet of Airbus passenger jets serviced by AAR can take off or land on the airport’s shorter crosswind runway. Delta Air and United Airlines, which provide passenger services at the airport, are able to use the shorter runway during the construction by using their smaller jets.