Local pilot gives thumbs-up to proposed airport plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
A goal of the airport master plan is to separate itinerant traffic and the small, locally-owned planes.
A local pilot who worked on the master plan is delighted with the results.
“Separation is a good deal,” said Brian M. Cooker, a veteran pilot, who spent nearly a year assisting with the plan. He is one of several local pilots who served on the Airport Technical Advisory Committee.
Cooker, a resident of the Gold Hill Airpark, has been flying since 1972 when he flew in the Marine Corps.
He said the new plan with a separate terminal, taxiways and ramps on the west side for jets and itinerant planes is a good deal for pilots of smaller planes.
Overall, Cooker is impressed with the analysis and projections for growth.
“Rowan County falls in the reliever airport category. It has the business and corporate jets as well as general aviation and keeps it away from the Charlotte airport, which is designed for jetliners.
Right now he considers the airport a superb facility for two-and four-seater light aircraft. It’s not so good for the jets and turbo-props used by corporations and NASCAR teams.
“Looking at all the indicators, economic growth is coming up the I-85 corridor . The Concord airport is already filled up,” Cooker said.
“My gut feeling is that it is a very good plan, very conservative in many cases. It’s a very, very solid study. Yes, we can justify (the need).”
Cooker recognizes it’s a tough pill for county commissioners to be looking at a $100-million airport expansion in an economic downturn. But he believes it’s time to move forward. “If you don’t continue to follow up, Rowan will be left out in the cold.”
Cooker keeps his plane at his home at Gold Hill, but frequently stops at the Rowan Airport to get fuel. Rowan prices are a bit cheaper than some surrounding airports.
Cooker will continue to work on airport issues.
Carl Ford, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, recently announced plans to appoint an Airport Advisory Committee and invited all the Technical Advisory Committee members to serve.
Jim Sides, a former county commissioner and member of the Technical Advisory Committee, will now serve on the advisory panel along with current Commissioner Chad Mitchell.
Sides, who initially wanted to sell the airport when first elected in 2004, quickly became its biggest booster.
He has explained often that when he found out the county would have to reimburse the federal government millions of dollars used to develop the airport, selling it was out of the question.
Sides pushed for going forward with the master plan and has repeatedly cited increasing interest in the airport from businesses.
The airport is now moving to the center of the county’s marketing effort for industry and business.
Other members of the technical committee who are scheduled to serve on the advisory committee are Dink J. Safrit, a retired accountant; B. Clay Lindsay Jr., a contractor and airport user; and Thomas L. Greene, director of aviation for Food Lion.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.