Airport poised to turn a profit

Fuel sales, hangar leases brighten financial picture

Operation wins FAA praise

Carroll County

May 14, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Increased fuel sales and fully leased corporate hangars could finally lead to a profit for the Carroll County Regional Airport, a persistent money loser for the county.

Fuel sales in the past 10 months have exceeded the total for all of last year by more than 100,000 gallons, an 80 percent increase, and are expected to reach 375,000 gallons by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

In addition, the county has leased all seven of its new corporate hangars, which cost $4 million to build. The county expects to earn $420,000 annually from the hangar leases.

Business is so good that Gary Horst, who supervises the airport as administrator of the county's Office of Performance Auditing and Special Projects, predicts a profit of about $50,000 next year.

"We might break even this fiscal year, and we are anticipating a profit next year," Horst said yesterday during a meeting with the county commissioners.

Tom Priscilla, an engineer with the Federal Aviation Agency, congratulated the commissioners and said there is "only a small club of airports in that status."

The county has recently made several improvements to the 155-acre airport property, which opened in 1979 on Route 97 outside Westminster. Those include a $350,000 security fence - 15,000 feet of chain link, 12 feet high, topped with barbed wire - around the airport perimeter and a $3 million expansion of the airport's apron, an area for aircraft next to the terminal.

Plans include adding another 25,000-gallon fuel tank, expanding the 5,100-foot runway and buying adjacent property for further development.

The county recently bought about 14 acres adjoining the airport for $1.3 million. That property gives the airport room to rebuild the aging hangars it is using for about 82 smaller planes and frees up space for more corporate hangars.

First, the county will rewrite its master plan for the airport, which handles 100,000 flights a year and is considered a reliever airport for Baltimore-Washington International and other larger airports in the area.

"The airport master plan is nearly 20 years old and has served us well," said Horst. "We need a 20-year picture of what the airport can become."

The FAA has pledged $230,000 to the study, 95 percent of the expected cost, and the state is kicking in 2.5 percent. The county is paying the remainder. If the county wants the runway extension included in the study, the costs could increase because of the many issues that would have to be reviewed, Priscilla said.

"We have to have an idea of the scope of the study," he said, adding that any changes in the study would have to be made by June 1. "We would rather not find out five years from now that we need to move a runway that we just extended."

For the master plan, the county would have to hire a consulting company to determine the best use for the airport and the need for more land if the airport isn't large enough to meet the demands of the next 20 years. The research would take about a year.

During the meeting with Priscilla, the commissioners discussed construction of more corporate hangars, razing and rebuilding the smaller hangars and extending the runway by 1,400 feet to Pinch Valley Road. A 6,500-foot runway would allow larger planes to land, refuel and take off. The 5,100-foot runway is too short for some aircraft to leave with a full load of fuel, Horst said.

"Comparable airports are looking at similar endeavors to accommodate the same users," Priscilla said.

Martin State Airport in eastern Baltimore County is planning to reconstruct a 7,000-foot runway. Hagerstown is building a 7,000-foot runway at a cost of $64 million. The Easton and Frederick airports are also planning longer runways, Priscilla said.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said several times during the meeting that the county is exploring its options, not making ironclad decisions on the airport's future.

"We are beginning the process to evaluate where we want to be and how we can get there in the next 20 years," Minnich said.

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