Idea for new airport flies in Cecil

Feasibility panel finds great need for facility

October 31, 2004|By Kevin T. McVey | Kevin T. McVey,SUN STAFF

Cecil County finished the first phase of an airport feasibility study last week that confirmed a need for a federally funded airport in northeastern Maryland.

The study was commissioned by Cecil County's Board of Commissioners and the Maryland Office of Economic Development, which arranged for the six-member Airport Feasibility Committee to study the proposal.

After expected approval by the Federal Aviation Administration and Maryland Aviation Administration early next month, the panel will consider requirements for an adequate facility.

The idea for a new or expanded airport in northeastern Maryland began in March 2001 when the Cecil commissioners created the Airport Feasibility Committee to examine the idea.

From March through September 2001, the committee visited airports in the area and met with federal and state authorities to discuss the idea.

The FAA provided 90 percent of the money for the $400,000 study, and Maryland and Cecil County each contributed 5 percent.

Phase I of the study began six months ago, with surveys mailed to more than 1,000 licensed pilots and businesses.

Thirty-two percent of pilots, 20 percent of businesses and 9.6 percent of businesses using aircraft said they would be "likely to base their aircraft at, or use regularly" an expanded airport in Cecil County.

Mike Waibel, project manager for URS Corp., an aviation consultant hired by the committee, said the feedback was unexpected.

"We were surprised at the amount of demand for a new airport," Waibel said. "We got almost a third of our surveys back and filled out, and for a planning study that was impressive. Many pilots were saying facilities were not adequate and that this planning was a long time coming."

Aviation activity forecasts were developed and presented at a public workshop last month in Elkton showing the county that more than 80 aircraft and 64,000 annual flight operations were expected at a new or expanded Cecil County airport during its first few years.

After the feasibility study progresses to Phase II, the committee will determine details such as the length of runways, size of hangars, parking, navigational aids and terminals. Phase II will also allow the county begin looking for a site.

Officials hope to narrow their choices to three or four sites as the study progresses. If Cecil County then approves the study, the Airport Feasibility Committee will choose a final site, make an environmental impact evaluation and design a layout.

When looking at a location for a new airport, the Airport Feasibility Committee and URS Corp. must consider the location's proximity to major roads, said Joyce Bowlsbey, the only non- pilot member of the committee.

"One important thing is that there has to be good and close access to I-95," Waibel said. "It has to be a location where someone can just hop onto I-95 from the airport and then hop off of the road right into the airport," she said.

Waibel said the selection of a site would take about six months, followed by a yearlong process to evaluate the environmental impact, and another year for design and bidding on the project before construction could begin.

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