Most of the renovations at Danville Regional Airport are done — the new, shorter, narrower runway has been open since last spring, the localizer has been repositioned to help pilots find the center of the runway and drainage issues either have been addressed or are being worked on.
One of the goals of the project was to cut down the “hump” in the mid-section of the runway to improve the sightline for pilots. It has been reduced to make it possible to see at least halfway down the runway as pilots prepare to take off.
Marc Adelman, the city’s transportation director, said extensive grading has been done to correct problems with storm water pooling on the runway.
“Water ran to the runway instead of away from it,” Adelman said.
Some areas still need modification and are on a punch list of final changes — including a final inspection of the runway pavement — that need to be made before the project can truly be called finished, Adelman said.
“The slope is much greater alongside the main taxiway,” Adelman said. “It’s been a challenge to retain grass seed; there are a lot of erosion issues, but [the contractor] keeps going after it.”
The main runway lost 600 feet in length and 50 feet in width, bringing it into current Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that called for the runway to be 5,900 feet long and 100 feet wide — a plan that upset a lot of local pilots and the operators of General Aviation at the airport, who felt the FAA plan was a step back from progress made at the airport.
“We had to meet FAA standards,” Adelman said of the $10 million project, mostly funded by the FAA. “And if we want to get FAA funding in the future, we had to follow FAA rules.”
Mike Rembold, owner of General Aviation, said his business suffered during the 14 months of renovations, when having only a 3,000-foot runway available meant jet aircraft had to go somewhere else.
The loss of fuel sales was a big hit on Rembold’s business, he said, and it still hasn’t completely recovered. Pilots who do stop for fuel sometimes purchase a little less than they used to because they are concerned about trying to take off with too much weight for the shorter runway — or they just got used to stopping elsewhere to refuel and didn’t return when the runway reopened.
“We just haven’t gotten all the regular customers back we had in the past,” Rembold said.
During renovations, Rembold said he had to lay off two full-time and two part-time employees — and has not yet been able to replace them.
“We have lost money; it has had a serious impact on us,” Rembold said.
Car rentals are still down, Rembold said, though student flight lessons have picked up.
“But you really make your money with fuel sales,” Rembold said.
Rembold is still unhappy about shortening and narrowing the runway, and feels the drainage problems still exist.
“It seems like they’re creating problems instead of fixing them; there are drainage problems in places where there was no problem before,” Rembold said. “We’ve gone backward instead of forward, in my opinion; people coming in say everyplace else they do improvements runways get longer, not shorter.”
Travis Williams, chief flight instructor at Averett University’s flight school, said the impact of the renovations was much less painful than expected.
The 3,000 feet of available runway during renovations meant sending inexperienced students to other airports to practice, but once they had soloed they were back at Danville Regional Airport.
“Three thousand feet is technically enough space … but with 40 student pilots, I’d rather err on the side of caution,” Williams said.
Students learning how to do instrument landings also had to go elsewhere while the localizer was being moved from its perch on a wooden platform near South Boston Road to its new place level with the runway.
Overall, Williams said, the school had one semester of some inconveniences, but the students also got opportunities to practice at other airports.
“It’s good practice to go to other airports instead of just being comfortable with one,” Williams said. “Overall, it was probably a good experience for our pilots.”