Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
N.C. aviation officials have high praise for the Rowan County Airport and the dreams for its expansion.
But they advised local leaders Wednesday to have patience, spend money on the airport’s infrastructure wisely and maybe look for creative ways beyond state and federal funding to finance its growth.
The Division of Aviation’s Rick Barkes and Bill Maslyk and N.C. Aeronautics Council member Dudley Humphrey spoke Wednesday at the Transportation Summit, organized by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
While Rowan County has plans for an $18 million to $20 million expansion of the airport runway by 1,000 feet, the money it can expect in coming years from the Division of Aviation will be limited.
The Division of Aviation is a one-stop shopping place for the state and federal money allocated for airports in North Carolina. But it works from a finite pot of money for the state’s 61 general aviation airports, which include Rowan’s.
The Federal Block Grant Program and the State Aid to Airports Program will combine to make roughly $29.8 million available to general aviation airports in 2008. It hardly makes a dent, Barkes noted, in the $228 million worth of funding requests the state has from the airports.
Communities often look for other resources to fund their expansions.
Maslyk said Burlington took out a $9 million loan toward getting its airport ready for Honda’s jet manufacturing operation.
Concord, which has a 7,400-foot-long runway compared to Rowan’s 5,500-foot runway, borrows money out of its utility fund for airport improvements. Monroe is selling bonds.
Humphrey advised the Rowan leaders to think long and hard about how they want to spend their money on infrastructure at the airport. He advised that they take a hard look at the Concord, Statesville and Lexington airports and how long it took them to “get where they are.”
Not counting a runway expansion, the Rowan County Airport has several projects in the Division of Aviation’s Transportation Improvement Plan through 2011, Maslyk said.
They include security fencing, a partial taxiway, land acquisition and ramp rehabilitation.
A runway expansion is not necessarily a done deal. A consultant is doing a master plan, and the state also is looking for a feasibility plan and costs/benefits analysis.
Humphrey said the Rowan County Airport already has a good runway at 5,500 feet. He called it adequate and right at the minimum required for some corporate jets. The airport “has an awful lot to be proud of,” he added.
“You’re very competitive right now,” Barkes agreed.
Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides said the Rowan County Airport has made great strides in recent years to become a good airport. While he would like to see the $20 million expansion, an emphasis also has to be placed on other components at the airport, he said.
The Rowan County Airport has 12,690 visitors a year and an annual economic impact of $22.9 million, according to 2006 figures from the Division of Aviation. It’s responsible for 232 jobs and a payroll of $5.9 million.
There are 99 planes based at the airport with a property tax value of $35.3 million.
State aviation officials say one corporate jet stationed at a general aviation airport delivers the same property tax value as 100 houses รณ a reason why Rowan County wants to expand its runway so it might be able to attract those jets.
Proponents of aviation say one mile of runway can give communities access to the whole world.
They add that general aviation airports have the ability to deliver air travel on demand, and towns without airports are becoming like the communities in the past which were bypassed by the railroad.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-426, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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