Saturday, January 14, 2012

Airport eyes runway extension. Ashe County Airport (KGEV), Jefferson, North Carolina.

Ashe County Airport Manager Eric Payne points to the excavation site at the southwest end of the runway that will provide the fill dirt to extend it at the opposite end.
Jesse Campbell photo/AMT

Pilots who in the past could not land at Ashe County Airport may have a new destination this fall with an anticipated runway extension.

The addition to the airstrip's east end will increase the space pilots have to maneuver by 700 feet, enhancing the total length to more than 5,000 feet.

“For many pilots, it's been an issue of insurance,” said Airport Manager Eric Payne. “Their coverage providers will not let them land at facilities with runways that have less room to land than that.”

The project will also include an extra 300 feet at the end of the runway, for overrun, to be used in emergency situations.

To provide the extra space, earth moving crews with Vannoy Construction Company began excavating more than a half million cubic yards of fill dirt from the southwest end of the airport and transporting it to the opposite side in October.

The removed earth from the excavation site will be flattened and made available for future expansion projects, such as constructing additional large size hangers, which Payne said are in high demand amongst pilots.

Funding for the project was made possible through a $2.5 million matching grant — with Ashe County's 10 percent matched by 90 percent in the grant — from the N.C. Department of Transportation's Aviation Division that is funneled down from the federal level.

Although work has stopped for the winter months, Payne anticipates a renewal of efforts this spring and the fill dirt to be in place by August.

“That's the plan. It should move right along then with the paving and lighting,” said Payne.

Despite the magnitude of the blasting of rock and excavation of dirt, Payne said deconstruction efforts have shut the airport down for only brief periods of time.

Pilots may also welcome an elongated runway in the summer, as a rise in temperatures results in high density altitude. This in turn causes a thinning of the air, making lift harder to achieve and a loss of engine power.

“It takes more runway to take off when the air thins out,” said Payne.

The altitude density at ACA, Payne said, is comparable to Denver.

Along with safety, a longer runway has an economic development appeal and possibly attracting corporate contacts to the county.

“A lot of people have told me that if it was not for airport, Gates Rubber Company would not have came here because they owned a Learjet at that time,” said Payne.

Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell said a longer runway opens up new options for the airport it did not previously enjoy.

“Because of the new length, we will be able to bring in a different size jet, which the more planes we can get flying in and out, the more potential money we can make by people coming into the county, fueling up, before heading somewhere else,” said Mitchell.

More runway space could also mean additional hangar space that yields tax benefits, said Mitchell.

In addition to runway advancements, Payne said crews are planning to update the facility's fuel farm to include new jet fuel and other types of aviation gas, which could further diversify the types of planes coming into the airport.

The airport began selling jet fuel in 2000, said Payne.

Airport officials want to replace the runway's hinged access gate with an automated system that would open to the pitch of an ambulance siren for emergency scenarios.

The extended runway will also be complimented by an aircraft taxi ramp.

Currently, airplanes must taxi on the runway before takeoff, which Payne said is a safety concern.


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