A runway 14 years in the making will open Thursday for recreational pilots and businesses that fly in and out of the region.
The $30 million project at Hampton Roads Executive Airport will accommodate larger aircraft and, combined with an improved landing system coming next, allow the privately owned airport to remain open for flights virtually 100 percent of the time, said Steven Fox, principal member of Virginia Aviation Associates LLC, which owns the facility.
Less known to the public than the region’s two commercial airports, Hampton Roads Executive Airport is visible from U.S. 58, a couple of miles west of where Interstates 664, I-264 and I-64 meet. It is one of 57 nontowered, public-use airports in Virginia; among those, it trails only Leesburg Executive Airport in the number of flights it serves, according to Fox.
Officials will gather at 10 a.m. to cut a ribbon on the new runway. It measures 5,350 feet long and 100 feet wide. The extra room will provide a greater comfort level for larger multiengine planes, said Tom Stevens, co-owner of Lear Stevens Aviation Services Inc., which operates at the airport.
“It’s that margin of safety that the new runway affords the airport,” Stevens said.
Hampton Roads Executive is home to about 20 aviation businesses and some 300 planes, many of them belonging to recreational pilots and small to medium companies, Fox said. The greater dependability from the new runway and improved landing system should help draw more activity from businesses such as charter companies and smaller freight services that operate every day, he said.
A 2011 study prepared for the Virginia Department of Aviation said Hampton Roads Executive contributed $29 million in economic activity from on-airport activity and visitor spending.
Hampton Roads Executive also serves as a reliever airport for Norfolk International Airport. If something shut down Norfolk International, general aviation traffic bound for Norfolk – not commercial flights – would be routed to Hampton Roads Executive, Fox said.
Beyond the $30 million runway project, an additional $10 million has gone into other upgrades in recent years, including a new terminal and hangars, Fox said. Overall, the federal government, which saw the runway work as fitting into its goal of bringing airport facilities up to minimum design standards, has contributed about $25 million, while the state and airport ownership have put in about $8 million each, he said.
The expansion continues an ascent for an airport that was in financial trouble in the 1990s. Fox and his partners bought the facility in 2000 when the previous owner, Gateway LLC, was in bankruptcy court.
A plan to build a larger runway had existed for years, and Fox and his partners renewed the effort when they took over. The federal permitting process, the multiple state agencies involved, funding delays and the need for “a lot more studies than they anticipated” added years to their timeline.
“We just stuck with it,” Fox said.