Airport director discusses his early days at the helm, projects since and what the future holds
By Jim Lisk, Editor
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 – After many years of limited service to Stanly County from its location to the south side of 24-27 By-Pass in Albemarle, the vision for a new airport to serve the needs of jet aircraft grew wings on May 21, 1971 when the Stanly County Airport Authority was created by the North Carolina General Assembly.
Five dedicated men – George McManus, Stokes Reeves, Carlton Holt, Pritchard Dennis and Dewey Sides – served on that first board and settled on a site in Palestine for the new airport.
These five charter board members searched for grants and other funding sources for years and opened bids on May 7, 1975 for the construction of a 3,900-foot runway. Bids ranged from $314,237 to $869,429, with E.D. Geymont, Inc. of Vale, N.C. being the low bidder.
Delays in grant funding pushed the construction start back to October/November 1976; however, during the delay, enough other federal, state and local funds were obtained to extend the runway to the 4,400 feet it opened with in early 1979.
Charles E. Hopkins was hired as the first airport manager in 1979 and the existing terminal was dedicated the same year.
In 1984, current Airport Manager David Griffin was hired to replace Cyril Herlocker, who was retained as a consultant to get Griffin’s feet on the ground with managing an airport.
“Talk about being lost, my only qualification for being an airport manager was that I had been a licensed pilot with about 12 years of public health experience,” Griffin said.
“Being a retired Army Colonel, Cyril recognized another old army enlisted man who needed a lot of advice and guidance. He kept me focused and on track.”
From his pilot experience, Griffin realized early on that the 4,400-foot runway was not long enough for most jet aircraft and that 5,000 feet was needed. Furthermore, without an instrument landing system (ILS), the airport was totally a “fair weather” facility.
Griffin set out to change the scope of things, but ran into a road block when it came to funding.
“Money was in short supply and the process for obtaining it contained just a bit of politics, and regardless of everything we tried, Stanly County politics were not good enough to land any funding,” Griffin said.
Then in 1987 with a chance encounter with the North Carolina Air National Guard, a partnership of the two developed and became a mutually beneficial reality when in 1988 the North Carolina Air National Guard’s (NCANG) 145th Tactical Airlift Group based out of Charlotte signed a cooperative agreement with the Airport Authority.
The NCANG got a place to train pilots on their large C-130 aircraft while the Stanly County Airport got enough funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install an instrument landing system, an automated weather observation system plus approximately 50 percent of the funding to lengthen the runway to 5,500 and increase the weight-bearing capacity of the runway to handle the extra weight of the C-130s. Stanly County funded the other 50 percent on the runway improvements.
Summing up all the benefits of the partnership, Griffin said: “In short, although the NCANG is technically a tenant of the airport, with their participation in infrastructure, we consider them a partner in our operations. With their help, we have achieved airport capabilities that can only be found at major airports. This will serve Stanly County extremely well in the future.”
Griffin readily admits that getting the FAA funding over the years was highly political and credits Bill Mullinix, a former authority board member, the late Jim Garrison, the former state senator, as key to lobbying Congress. Inside the U.S. Congress, Rep. Bill Hefner was always a true friend of the airport during his 24 years of service in the U.S. House.
He also lauds former U.S. Sen. Loch Faircloth and former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes as big supporters of the airport.
Griffin has received the blessings of many county commissioners with various projects over the years.
“All of these individuals saw and still see the value of investing in the local airport as it truly is an investment in the future,” Griffin said.
A 2006 study by the North Carolina Division of Avia-tion and N.C. State Univer-sity put the economic impacts of the state’s airports at $11.8 billion annually and $23 million at the Albemarle-Stanly County Airport.
“I have served many boards over the last 25 years and have seen much progress under each of them. The current board – Chair-man Gary Lowder, Vice Chairman Mike Harwood, Secretary Ronnie Huneycutt and members Tony Dennis and Steven Chambers – have a couple exciting projects ahead,” Griffin said.
“Our new, state-of-the-art terminal will be the envy of every general aviation airport in the Southeast. Then, we’re also looking at the extension of our primary runway to accommodate even more of the long-range aircraft now serving our community.
“These new projects will put a new face on the community and greatly expand the potential of our community.”
Source: THE STANLY NEWS AND PRESS