At the beginning of the year, Commissioner Bill Carter suggested Caswell County look into building an airport greater than what Danville offers since the city reduced its runway size and limited what planes could land there in 2018. Carter suggested the location be near Milton to take advantage of its proximity to Virginia International Raceway. Recently, his efforts were revisited.
“The Va. Dept. of Aviation (recently) did an economic impact study and Danville Airport, prior to the shortening of the runway contributed $68M annually to the economy,” said Richard Bailey, Danville Airport Commission chairman and chief flight instructor. “I’m not going to tell you it’ll be like the movie, ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘If you build it, they will come,’ but I will tell you if there is no facility, they’re going to ‘come’ somewhere else, because they can’t come here.”
According to Bailey, Danville shortened its runways, greatly reducing the load-carrying capacities of jets landing in Danville, Va.
“We can no longer land the larger corporate jets or even the larger private jets. Many of these people come to VIR and to other places near here too,” he said.
Larger runways are needed to land jets that are heavier due to the amount of fuel needed to fly intercontinentally.
“These jets are heavier, they carry more people, they travel further, they travel faster, and the way they do that quite simply is with more fuel and at 6.5 pounds per gallon it doesn’t take long for the weight to build up,” he said. “We’re asking them to taxi down a 35-foot strip with landing gear that’s 34-feet wide, wheels sticking out beyond that, and engines sticking out even more beyond that. These jets are just not able to land there.”
After talking with Economic Development Director Cori Lindsay, Carter said there are grants potentially available to not only fund the construction of an airport but also purchase any land required for it.
County Manager Bryan Miller said, “We have many grant partners in the region and many times they are willing to help fund plans for development.”
Commissioner Nate Hall said about 10 to 15 years ago the Commissioners looked into grants for a potential airport. They were indeed available but the board still turned the venture down.
Commissioner Sterling Carter said, “If we start development here, do you think Danville will try to (one) up us and expand at their location?”
Bailey said development grants are usually for new facilities and that existing locations such as Danville Airport have more than likely already received a grant in the past, reducing their chances for additional funding.
“My suggestion would be to contact the N.C. Dept. of Aviation, a well-known organization that I’m very familiar with and have them give you some guidance on a feasibility study that will answer the questions where; will it work; how much will it cost; and how will it get paid [off]?” said Bailey.
According to Miller, there is data available from recent studies and moving forward once approved to do so could be “fairly fast.”
Hall motioned to allow the county manager to look into the costs of a feasibility study.
“I think you will find that in the end this will be something that would be an attraction for economic development; it would be an attraction for any number of side activities, as most airports [bring],” said Bailey. “Industry doesn’t come to town on silver wheels; they come on silver jets.”
Commissioner Steve Oestreicher, “I just want to be really clear that this is just the beginning of looking at the feasibility study and not (approving) the feasibility study itself.”
The motion passed with Commissioner David Owen as the only dissenting vote.