Opinion: Runway Extension Honors ‘Informal Agreement,’ Keeps Local Economy Vital
April 15, 2015
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  • As we enjoy the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing this week, we are reminded that without an airport, we would not have the tournament.

    Eight years ago, the subject of the Hilton Head Island Airport was very controversial, with one faction wanting a longer runway facilitating commercial service to, say, Chicago, and another not wanting any extension, fearing the “camel’s nose under the tent.”

    An informal agreement was struck, with both sides being agreeable to an extension that was:

    •Contained on airport property.
    •Limited to a length required to maintain commercial service to nearby hubs.

    Today, the 5,000-foot runway design is underway with only permitting and construction remaining. The informal agreement has been honored. The design is being contained on airport property. And the runway length should be adequate for service to Atlanta and Charlotte.

    The process to date has included preparation of a master plan according to Federal Aviation Administration design and safety standards; support of the master plan by supermajorities of Beaufort County and Town of Hilton Head Island councils; FAA acceptance of the master plan; recovery of Mitchelville artifacts that are being used to promote Heritage tourism; findings by the FAA of no adverse environmental impact; preparation of a benefit cost analysis to FAA standards — even though not required by the FAA — and an FAA finding that the expansion is fully cost-justified.

    Noise is an issue for our airport neighbors. Newer aircraft are quieter. The county and the town are receptive to building noise walls, which are effective for ground but not airborne noise. Conventional wisdom suggests that a wall for, say Palmetto Hall, would not be effective and probably have the unintended consequence of reducing property values.

    From a taxpayer’s perspective, the island airport is cash-positive, even excluding airplane property taxes and other taxes collected from passengers who might not otherwise visit.

    The 5,000-foot runway will support all private and business aviation aircraft, which is important for the economic health of our island. It will promote economic development, show the area is serious about untapped corporate hospitality, and support the real estate market.
    There has been confusion over the length required for the workhorse plane — 70 passenger jets serving regional markets. The new length is adequate for short hauls, such as to Charlotte and Atlanta. Those jets do require longer runways for their full range with a full load of fuel.

    Commercial service will evaporate without the extension. The risk of losing service with the a newly extended 5,000-foot runway is low. Our community generates a disproportionate amount of business and international travel, which Delta, US Air and now American are unlikely to abandon, particularly to one another.

    Delta withdrew when it phased out turboprops, re-entered upon merging with Northwest, which operated turboprops, withdrew when those turboprops were retired, and is expected to return once the runway is extended.
    Finally, to maximize safety, the final design should include paved overrun at each end, space permitting.

    Town Council and the island’s administration have always backed this concept. It honors the informal agreement to contain the expansion on airport property, encourage commercial service to nearby hubs and maximize safety.

    Stu Rodman is a Beaufort County Council member who serves as a liaison to the Town of Hilton Head Island and the Beaufort County Airport Advisory Board.