More than four years after it filed an application with the Federal Aviation Administration, the county finally has received clearance to begin work on a long-planned runway extension and other capital improvements at the Chesterfield Airport.
The federal agency informed Chesterfield County officials earlier this month that it had completed an environmental assessment and concluded that the projects listed in the airport’s master plan would have no substantial negative impact.
FAA approval was the final bureaucratic hurdle the county airport had to clear in order to lengthen its runway by 800 feet, which officials say will allow bigger aircraft to take off and land safely in Chesterfield.
“The environmental assessment addresses airfield infrastructure projects that collectively enhance the airport’s ability to improve safety and security, meet FAA design criteria and achieve Chesterfield County’s goals for airport development,” Deputy County Administrator Scott Zaremba said. The Board of Supervisors approved the airport’s master plan in 2010.
When the county held a public hearing in December 2012 to solicit public comments on a draft of its FAA application, one official suggested the environmental assessment wouldn’t be completed for 18 to 24 months.
In the end, it took more than twice that long.
“It has been a long, laborious process,” added Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle. “We are very pleased that we can now move to the next step.”
As one of eight FAA-designated general aviation reliever airports in Virginia, the Chesterfield Airport is tasked with accommodating the region’s noncommercial air traffic so Richmond International Airport can more efficiently process commercial flights.
The airport’s location at the interchange of state routes 10 and 288 is convenient for visitors who have business meetings scheduled in Chesterfield, Henrico or Richmond.
But with a runway that measures 5,500 feet in length, the larger private jets used to ferry corporate executives across the country are too heavy to take off safely from Chesterfield with both passengers and a full fuel load.
According to Dale Supervisor Jim Holland, in whose district the county airport is located, extending the runway to 6,300 feet will address that shortcoming.
“Given the corporations we’re already attracting to the region, [a longer runway] undoubtedly will be an economic driver for the county,” he said.
There are several other projects planned for the airport, including a $2 million fuel farm replacement that was approved by the Board of Supervisors as part of the county’s fiscal year 2018 capital improvement plan.
County officials say the fuel farm, which was constructed in 1968, currently is operating safely. But it has required extensive maintenance over the years – to include re-lining of its fuel tanks – and the condition of the tanks and other equipment justifies replacement.
The state is expected to reimburse the county for 20 percent of the project’s cost, or $400,000. The Board of Supervisors also authorized a $650,000 expenditure in November 2015 to purchase three parcels of land adjacent to the county airport.
The property could be used to build a public safety access road between the airport and Cogbill Road. The road would reduce response times for units at Chesterfield Fire and EMS Station 15, which is based at the airport.
The airport’s master plan also calls for future construction of at least one new hangar.
Pat Driscoll, who manages the airport, noted that four sites on the property have been identified as suitable for a new hangar, including one that is shovel-ready and could accommodate a 10,000-square-foot hangar.
He also said the county has had discussions with Mike Mickel, president and chief executive officer of Dominion Aviation, the airport’s fixed-base operator, about building a new hangar.
“That would give us a lot of flexibility,” Driscoll added. “We’re pretty much at capacity for corporate aircraft right now.”