Several projects should be completed in the next few months at the Chilton County Airport with a groundbreaking ceremony planned for Oct. 22.
The Chilton County Airport Authority received word on Sept. 11 that a $1.8 million grant was awarded to the airport from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).
The grant will be used to improve the runway lighting system by providing additional lighting and upgrading the current lighting that is more than 50 years old.
Airport Authority board member Billy Singleton said Monday that the new lighting system will save the airport roughly 85 percent in electrical costs due to the more modern system of turning the runway lights off when they are not in use.
“It is one of those things that the money no longer has to go out to electricity and we can reinvest those funds into the airport,” Singleton said.
The lights will be turned on by pilots inside the airplane as they approach Chilton County and is a system used by most airports, according to Singleton.
Although Singleton said a malfunction with a pilot not being able to turn on the lights from inside the airplane is rare, air traffic controllers with the FAA would be able to contact Singleton or others at the airport in the event something went wrong.
The runway will also be resurfaced with new runway markings that will update the runway that has not been resurfaced in more than 30 years.
“We will have lights that will assist pilots in maintaining a proper glide scope to the runway which is an added safety feature that will be added to this project,” Singleton said.
Singleton said with the $1.8 million grant, Chilton County is responsible to pay 5 percent of the grant with the FAA and ALDOT posting 95 percent of the cost for the projects.
“Receiving this grant was tremendous and will help us replace some things that have not been replaced in a considerable amount of time,” Singleton said.
After the runway is resurfaced, county engineer Tony Wearren will take the recycled asphalt, use it through Recycled Asphalt Product (RAP) and stockpile it for the road department to use for maintenance on county roads.
Two other projects will also be completed to give the airport a new facelift including the installation of a new hangar that will house 10 airplanes and the clearing of six parcels of land near U.S. Highway 145 that will extend the runway to 4,000 feet.
The land acquisition of the parcels was through a separate grant for roughly $825,000.
Currently, the runway is 3,200 feet and the six parcels and five homes will soon be cleared.
“As soon as all of the residents have relocated, we will take the trees down,” Singleton said. “After the first of the year we will obtain another grant to do the final cleanup of that area.”
After all of the projects are completed, the Airport Authority plans to host a groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 22 with city, county and state leadership to kick off the newly updated airport facility.
“We are viewing this as a groundbreaking,” Singleton said. “It will be a vastly different facility. This is something this community should be very proud of and will be something that will benefit this entire county.”
Airport Authority Chairman Craig Cleckler said acquiring the grants for the projects was important to the airport due to a competitive market of other airports hoping to obtain the grants.
“There is a lot of competition with other airports,” Cleckler said. “We worked to get all of the preliminary work done so when we received the call last Tuesday that we had been approved for the $1.8 million dollar grant, we were ready to move ahead. If we don’t accept these grants, there are 68 other airports waiting in line to accept them. The competition is incredibly high.”
Singleton and Cleckler said the Airport Authority should begin applying for 2014 grants next month.
“We will still be dealing with these projects while we look ahead to 2014 but we are thrilled to have received the amount of money we did for the projects that will be completed this year,” Singleton said.
Singleton said the new projects will bring the airport to the point that everyone can start looking ahead to the future.
“The vast majority of our efforts up until now have been to save our infrastructure,” Singleton said. “The FAA will not invest funds until we are able to ensure them we can protect the approaches to the runway. When we look at the projects, this airport will be secure and we will have eliminated all of the issues that were noted on our airport inspections each year.”
Although Singleton said there is still work that will need to be done at the airport after the three projects are completed, the projects finished in 2013 are monumental for the Chilton County Airport.
“The beauty of all of this is we can start looking ahead and we are all very excited about that,” Singleton said.