Airport steers toward future

FAA moves up schedule to update master plan

`Look at the next 20 years'

Potential improvements, expansion to be studied

Carroll County

January 26, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After a tour of the Carroll County Regional Airport late last year, a representative of the Federal Aviation Administration decided the time had come for an update to the facility's master plan.

The original plan for the county-owned facility dates to 1986 and was not scheduled for major revisions until 2008. But recent improvements, some of which were funded by the FAA, have prompted the federal agency to move the date forward.

"It is really time to look at the next 20 years at the airport," said Gary Horst, who supervises the airport as administrator of the county's Office of Performance Auditing and Special Projects. "We need a thoughtful look at a wide range of possibilities and needs."

The county has built - at a cost of $4 million - seven corporate hangars at the airport, along Route 97 just outside Westminster. It is set to install a $500,000 security fence - 12,000 feet of chain link, 12-feet high and topped with barbed wire - around its perimeter, and is involved in a $3 million expansion of the airport's apron, an area for aircraft next to the terminal.

The FAA is paying 90 percent of the costs for the fence and the apron. Other plans include adding another 25,000-gallon fuel tank, expanding the 5,100-foot runway and buying adjacent property for further development, Horst said.

"Given all those circumstances, it is timely to update the plan now," said Horst, who gave the FAA representative a tour of the facility. "We have sent the scope of the work in a proposed format to the FAA, something we think is reasonable. Now it is up to them."

Among the information forwarded were traffic counts and activity levels at the airport, which handles about 100,000 flights annually.

The county expects the study to cost about $200,000 and will put the work out to bid as soon as it has FAA approval, probably by early in the spring, Horst said. Several consulting companies have expressed an interest in the project, which will take about a year to complete, Horst said. The FAA will cover nearly all the cost.

The study should show the best use of existing property and the need for more property, if consultants determine that the airport is not large enough to meet the demands of the next 20 years. It will review lighting projects and other equipment, and such things as precision approach requirements, Horst said.

"The master plan may even entail more hangars, what kind and where we would put them," he said. "The market and national transportation needs are driving this effort."

The FAA considers Carroll's airport to be a reliever facility should larger airports need its services. In recent years, the airport, which opened in 1979, has made several improvements in hopes of marketing itself as a prime location for pilots traveling the Mid-Atlantic. But it has been a persistent money loser for the county.

In the next few years, the financial outlook is likely to change for the better, Horst said. All but one of the seven new hangars is leased, and Horst said he has a solid prospect for that one. The county expects to earn $420,000 annually from the hangar leases, charging each tenant $5,000 a month.

The county also receives a percentage of fuel sales, and collects revenue from renting out the terminal building and several small hangars to Westair Aviation Inc., the airport's operator.

Last year the county hired a Virginia marketing company that promises to help sell the aviation industry on the airport.

"We are an airport that figures in some small way in the national transportation plan," Horst said.

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