Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2013

SALISBURY — County leaders pitched their vision of the Rowan County Airport to two congressmen and a slew of state delegates Wednesday.
U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson and Virginia Foxx toured the airport as a part of Hudson’s transportation jobs tour. They were joined by N.C. Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, and Sens. Gene McLaurin and Andrew Brock.
But before the tour, Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides and Vice Chairman Craig Pierce presented their plan to continue growth at the airport and extend the runway by 500 feet.
“What we want you to know is that we have a plan and we’re working that plan because we feel like the airport for the longest time has sat here and hasn’t been cultivated to be the economic engine that it truly can be,” Pierce told lawmakers.
Pierce said county leaders are nearing a deal with the N.C. Department of Transportation that would give the county a deal on used Interstate 85 material to be recycled for the airport runway extension.
He also said the county plans to resurface and groove the runway to make it safer and more efficient for pilots.
Pierce said aircraft, unlike other revenue sources, doesn’t require funding from the county to keep up.
“I’ll give you an example: one medium-sized jet aircraft comes in at $20 million, we’re looking at $120,000 in revenue annually and we’ve got no capital outlay to have to support it,” Pierce said.
County leaders said they were able to put up fencing around the airport with federal funding years ago and said the money has made the runway safer for pilots.
After presenting lawmakers with a series of improvements and some plans for the next 20 years, the group toured a large, new hangar being constructed along the runway.
Lawmakers also toured the airport’s Air National Guard station and viewed some of the aircraft staged at the complex.
Airport Director Thad Howell also told lawmakers the airport’s location gives pilots a special benefit.
With a close proximity to Charlotte, the airport is far enough away to get take-off clearance from the runway.
“There’s no waiting in line,” Howell said. “Food Lion certainly reaps the benefits of being able operate in and out of here very efficiently.”
Pierce said the runway project is approximately $7 million, $3 million of which would be the overlay resurfacing process.
The county could also look at a 300-foot extension, but is unlikely to do so, he said, because the extra feet wouldn’t push the airport into the next aircraft category.
Pierce said the county wouldn’t see any financial gain for that extension. It could see a considerable boost with the 500 foot extension, he said.
“If we get this done, we’ll be happy — for a little bit,” Pierce said.