Carroll officials approve airport expansion plan

Proposal reflects a trend among regional airstrips

March 23, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare and William Wan | Mary Gail Hare and William Wan,SUN STAFF

A nearly $60 million expansion of the Carroll County Regional Airport in Westminster approved yesterday will more than double the facility's capacity, permitting more and larger aircraft and fueling jobs in the region.

The airport project is one of several across the state prompted by a shift of corporate jets from major airports to regional ones - due in part to post-9/11 restrictions on the airspace around Washington.

Martin State Airport in eastern Baltimore County is planning to reconstruct a 7,000-foot runway, and Hagerstown is building a 7,000-foot runway at a cost of $64 million.

The Easton and Frederick airports also are planning longer runways.

"There's a noticeable migration of companies away from the big airports," said Tom Priscilla, an Federal Aviation Administration engineer for Maryland's airports.

Corporate jets are looking for new bases because large airports such as Baltimore-Washington International and Reagan National are becoming more congested and have added restrictions on airspace after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

Larger jets are becoming more popular, one reason longer runways are needed, said Michael J. Waibel, senior airport planner with URS Corp., a Hunt Valley company consulting on the Carroll project.

Adding longer runways will also permit corporate jets based at the airport to take off with full fuel tanks. Many jets using regional airports have to land for refueling at larger airports before continuing on cross-country journeys.

The bulk of the funding for the $58.8 million expansion would come from the FAA, with the county's share estimated at about $1.5 million, or about 2.5 percent, officials said.

The plan approved by the county commissioners calls for construction of a 6,500-foot runway, 1,400 feet longer than the existing runway.

The project would include a new parallel taxiway. The runway and taxi area could accommodate aircraft with wider wingspans and planes making lower approaches. The plan also calls for upgrading equipment to provide pilots with better visibility.

"At 5,100 feet, the current runway is inadequate for planes taking off with a full load of fuel," Waibel said. "This new plan avoids the pitfalls, builds a new runway and taxiway and can be implemented with minimal impacts to airport operations."

The county must complete its master plan for the airport and conduct an environmental impact analysis, which would include noise considerations, before the FAA undertakes design and land acquisition, said Terry Page, district manager for the federal agency.

"This plan is not reachable in a year, but it lends itself to phasing, and it is doable," Page said.

The 155-acre facility, which opened in 1979 on Route 97 outside Westminster, probably would have to shut down for less than a month. Much of the construction could be timed for the evening hours, when there is less traffic, officials said.

The plan also advises building more hangars both for corporate jets and smaller aircraft, at a cost of about $12 million. That expansion would make use of 14 adjoining acres that the commissioners purchased last year for $1.3 million.

The county's seven corporate hangars and the smaller hangars are all leased, and a growing waiting list shows that demand exists for more. Yesterday, the board deferred a decision on that part of the project.

For the first time in many years, the airport turned a profit last fiscal year, said Gary Horst, who supervises the airport as administrator of the county's Office of Performance Auditing and Special Projects.

Revenue from fuel sales and hangar leases has increased and should reach $700,000 next year. With the proposed additional hangars, lease revenue alone could reach nearly $600,000 by 2010, the consultants said.

"These investments won't pay off immediately, but this is the way to go," Horst said. "This is your opportunity to bring the airport up to what it can be."

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