Carroll airport honored by state

Site profitable for 2 years, aided by D.C. airspace restrictions

Officials consider $60 million expansion

June 05, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Regional Airport, which is on the verge of a $60 million expansion, has been chosen as the 2005 Airport of the Year by the Maryland Aviation Administration.

The award, which recognizes excellence in operations and service, comes as county officials are considering a proposal that would double the airport's capacity, opening the facility to more and larger aircraft and generating jobs in the region.

"Of the 35 airports under MAA's jurisdiction, ours was selected for this award," said Gary Horst, who supervises the airport as administrator of the county's Office of Performance Auditing and Special Projects. "We are pleased and gratified that our efforts and commitment have been recognized. This award is important to the county and to all of Maryland."

The airport, established in 1979 on Route 97 near Westminster, handles about 100,000 flights a year and is considered a reliever airport for Baltimore-Washington International and other larger airports.

Its increase in traffic reflects a shift of corporate jets from major airports to regional ones - due in part to post-Sept. 11 restrictions on the airspace around Washington.

The facility struggled financially through the 1990s but has turned a profit the past two years, mostly from fuel sales and leases of its seven corporate hangars, county officials said.

Jet fuel sales will probably top $600,000 by the end of this fiscal year on June 30, a nearly 50 percent increase from last year. Those sales have prompted the $150,000 addition of two jet fuel tanks that will triple the storage capacity to 36,000 gallons later this summer, officials said.

A growing waiting list for hangar space has officials thinking about building more corporate hangars, and the recent $1.3 million purchase of about 14 adjoining acres gives the facility room to build. The additional land would also allow the airport to raze and rebuild the aging hangars that house about 82 smaller planes.

The award recognizes an airport "that provides outstanding service to the public, operates safely and within our confines," said Gregory M. Smith, airport licensing officer at MAA.

"This airport has excelled in operations and community involvement," Smith said. "It provides all the services that we expect to the general public."

In recent years, the award has gone to Tipton Airport at Fort Meade as well as municipal airports in Cambridge, Easton and Hagerstown. Michael A. Wassel, manager of the Tipton Airport, said recognition "by the state and by other airports is great. It does not necessarily generate more business, but it is good for business.

"The Carroll County airport is a good facility that is well-organized," Wassel said. "It has had a lot of big changes in the last few years."

The award committee looked at improvements in operations, marketing programs, timely execution of federal grants and efforts to promote aviation. The Federal Aviation Administration recently funded a $230,000 consultant's study that looked at several possible upgrades to the Carroll County airport.

In addition to constructing more corporate hangars and rebuilding the smaller hangars, the commissioners have discussed extending the runway by 1,400 feet for a total of 6,500 feet, a length that would accommodate larger planes.

The current 5,100-foot runway is too short for some aircraft to leave with a full load of fuel.

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

Future upgrades must wait until officials complete a 20-year master plan for the facility.

Horst and the airport staff will receive a certificate and plaque June 22 at the 10th annual Maryland Regional Aviation Conference in Hagerstown.

The conference draws aviation enthusiasts as well as airport operators and users, Smith said.

"This time is for people in the industry to talk about their concerns for the industry as a whole and to recognize one airport that has excelled in operations," Smith said.

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