More improvements are in store for the Pickens County Airport, including the potential extension of its runway, and could further the airport’s economic impact in the community.
Pickens County has received a $350,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, and about $243,000 of that will be used for the purchase of property at the end of the runway at the airport, said Pickens County Administrator Chappell Hurst.
Hurst said county officials are closing on one piece of property and are looking at two more. All three would total about 20 acres, he said.
The FAA has given preliminary approval for a runway extension of 1,100 feet, which would take it from its current 5,000 feet to 6,100 feet and would allow the airport to accommodate larger planes, Hurst said.
“As you improve your facilities you … improve your ability to attract businesses and business people who would invest in the county,” he said.
Hurst said the county had to document the types of planes that come into the airport, and because of the size and number of larger aircraft that now land there, the airport qualified for a longer runway.
The runway extension could be done sometime in the next five years, he said. It’s a part of a five-year plan for the airport.
“There will be additional landing systems that would be approved for inclement weather that would make landing and takeoff safer,” Hurst said. “That’s part of that five-year plan also.”
He said improvements at the airport could help with efforts to attract companies to establish in Pickens County.
“It enables you to have larger companies who have private aircraft that fly in and out where their executives fly in and out and visit these different facilities,” he said. “You’ve got to be in a position to accommodate that.”
The expected improvements come after other enhancements at the airport in recent years.
“We built a whole new terminal and parking facilities and we constructed additional hangars, T-hangars as well as box hangars,” Hurst said.
Skeets Cooper, airport director, said the airport has 22 T-hangars, five 60-by-60-foot box hangars and one 100-by-100-foot box hangar.
New fencing was put up around the airport as well. Before only parts of the airport had fencing, and now it is fully fenced-in, Hurst said.
“That’s to make it much safer, to keep wildlife from getting on the runway,” he said.
Another part of the five-year plan calls for the development of industrial sites for prospective companies and additional hangars on land next to the airport as well as an access road into those hangars and sites.
The airport rents the hangars, which offsets the cost associated with operating the airport, Hurst said.
“We would naturally get more visitors into our county,” he said. “By getting more aircraft it leads you to more fuel sales and also it leads to the ability to house more planes at the airport so there would be a need for additional hangars.”
All of that helps make the airport self-sustaining, which has been a goal for several years.
Hurst said the airport’s 2012-13 operating budget was almost entirely funded without county money. He said $16,000 of $250,000 budget came from county funds, and the rest was generated from within the airport with things such as fuel sales and hangar rentals.
Hurst said the county has paid for land purchases and improvement projects at the airport with money from the FAA and the state Aeronautics Commission.
“We’ve been using grant monies to help pay for all this,” he said.
Cooper said that usually with the grants the FAA will pay 90 percent or 95 percent of costs, with the state and county each covering 2.5 percent to 5 percent.
Hurst said the county will apply for FAA grants to do the runway extension and the other projects. The remaining approximately $100,000 of the $350,000 grant is for a planning and engineering company.