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Rowan County Airport weighing new hangar construction

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — County officials hope to add more hangar space to the Rowan County Airport, but a letter that landed on Commissioner Craig Pierce’s desk could change plans slightly.

Pierce on Friday presented a letter to the Rowan County Airport Advisory Board that included a proposal to purchase new helicopters for the State Highway Patrol. The county wouldn’t foot the bill for a helicopter, but it may need to provide additional hangar space. Coincidentally, Rowan County just finished construction of a 15,000-square-foot hangar — paid for with a $2.4 million loan.

Commissioners, however, built the newest hangar as a sort of speculative building at the airport. Commissioners hoped to lure new corporate jets to the airport and say they’ve got several potential tenants.

Pierce, on Friday, started discussion about the letter by asking a question.

“Do we want to take county resources to accommodate that helicopter?” Pierce asked the Airport Advisory Board. “We’ve got to talk about the economics of what they’re asking for.”

The specific item that landed on Pierce’s desk is House Bill 34, which was introduced into the N.C. General Assembly on Feb. 2. Pierce said the letter didn’t come with a return address or any information about the sender.

The bill asks the legislature to appropriate $18.2 million from the state general fund to purchase two rescue helicopters — one stationed in the western part of the state and one in the east. Because the N.C. Highway Patrol already uses the Rowan County Airport as a base of operations, Pierce said it’s likely the new helicopter would be housed locally, too.

The state’s helicopter would result in a small sum of lease money, but it wouldn’t be taxed, Pierce said. Putting the new helicopter in the newest hangar would take up prime space for pricey jets that would generate tax revenue, he said.

Pilot and Board Member Tom Greene framed the discussion in a different way. The county’s airport may be slightly better protected than others across the state.

The $18.2 million price tag raised a question for board member and pilot Randy Baker. The sum seemed a little high for two helicopters, Baker said. The $18.2 million may include construction of new hangars, he said.

House Bill 34 doesn’t say whether a portion of the funds would help build a hangar.

The Airport Advisory Board didn’t take any action related to Pierce’s letter, but it came up later in the meeting as board members discussed whether to build new T-hangars.

County officials say there’s a waiting list of people who want to lease T-hangars. On Friday, the Airport Board discussed two options — a row of 10 T-hangars or six T-hangars with a square hangar — 68 feet wide and 68 feet tall —attached to the end.

Estimates presented Friday pegged the 10-hangar option at $2.1 million and the mixed-hangar option at about $1.2 million.

The mixed-hangar option would allow for larger planes to be housed in the square hangar, but Greene questioned whether a corporate pilot would want to be housed in a section of the airport that currently contains hobbyists and small planes.

“However, a law enforcement agency might,” Greene said.

The Airport Advisory Board voted to seek formal estimates about the 10-hangar option, which seemed to be the preferred option.

Board members talked about following up with state legislators and law enforcement officials about the helicopter purchase.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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