Delaware Coastal Airport is looking to reposition itself as a modern facility, capitalizing on a nearly 75-year history of aviation.
As many as 50 aircraft a day land at the massive complex southeast of Georgetown, a former U.S. Navy facility that until June was known as the Sussex County Airport.
On weekdays, the majority of air traffic consists of charters and corporate airplanes, with companies like Mountaire, Harris Teeter, Food Lion and others using the airport. Among the home airports for incoming planes on a recent fall day were Tallahassee, Florida; Scottsdale, Arizona; Blacksburg, Virginia; Morristown, New Jersey; and Easton, Maryland.
The airport also has permanent tenants that generate air traffic, including the Delaware State Police and PATS Aircraft, an aviation company that works on large passenger jet fuel systems and interiors and is one of Sussex County’s largest employees. Delaware Technical Community College operates an airplane maintenance program at the airport.
The facility also hosts the LifeNet Air – a medical transport provider – and the Delaware Aviation Museum. From its Georgetown outpost, the Delaware State Police has helicopters and a single-engine airplane.
About $40 million is being invested to modernize the airport, where about 1,100 are employed. The first phase of a construction project to extend the runway from 5,000 to 6,000 feet has finished. The facility in August was awarded a $550,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant for new taxiway lighting.
The improvements are part of an effort to bring larger aircraft to the 1940s airport. Officials also have been working to secure new tenants.
“The county has made a significant effort to attract that business by improving the facility,” said Chip Guy, a spokesman for the county.
A consultant in 2013 recommended the name change to make the airport more marketable and recognized. The County Council approved the change in June.
“For years, the airport has had a bit of an identity crisis,” said county Administrator Todd F. Lawson at the time. “To some, it’s the Sussex County Airport; others call it the Georgetown Airport, but those names don’t make clear where Sussex County is and what the area has to offer. Delaware Coastal Airport does that.”
New Castle Airport also is in the middle of a branding campaign, after Frontier Airlines in June stopped serving the facility, citing limited passenger numbers. The carrier started service in 2013 between New Castle and Chicago, Houston, Denver, Orlando and Tampa several times a week. The departure made Delaware the only state without commercial passenger service.
The Georgetown airport attracts general aviation fliers from all over the eastern part of the country on weekends, many drawn by the proximity to beaches. More than 60 privately owned aircraft are permanently based at the airport, which annually has about 35,000 landings and takeoffs.
Hank Stoebenau of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, flew into Georgetown recently in his single-engine Mooney Ovation. He said he was motivated by the airport’s Arena’s Restaurant and positive online reviews from other pilots. The trip from a Philadelphia-area airport took about 40 minutes.
“I was interested in the restaurant and what I have read about it and the airport,” he said.
After lunch in the airport restaurant, Stoebenau’s plane was refueled and he was on his way home to Pennsylvania.
Jim and Shirley Baile of Milton said their son flies into Georgetown regularly from his home in Westminster, Maryland, mostly to avoid the traffic and congestion that clogs many destination highways, especially during the summer.
“When he has wanted to visit us or help with some project here,” Shirley Baile said, “he finds that flying over is faster than driving.”