Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lexington County Airport at Pelion slowly taking off

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA   --   A small airstrip in Pelion is becoming more popular with pilots.

Flights in recent years have averaged as many as 6,800 annually, an increase of 500 since 2012, Lexington County officials say.

That growth began after county officials slowly started improving an airstrip that veteran flier Jim Herpst said “was somewhat neglected.”

Doubling storage space for aircraft, adding automated fuel service and installing better lighting were among the first improvements.

The renovations are designed to attract businesses travelers as well as those who fly for fun.

Traffic at the airstrip – 6Juliet0 in aviation argot – is growing for a simple reason, some pilots said.

“It’s convenient, easy to get in and out of,” said Herpst, of Lexington, who has flown from airports across the Midlands for business and recreation.

Half of the annual flights are aircraft that come to buy fuel, officials said.

But the airstrip in the largely rural southwest corner of the county is too small and too remote yet to attract other conveniences for travelers, such as vehicle rentals, officials said.

Widening the runway from 60 to 75 feet is next on the radar, a $4 million project designed to attract larger aircraft. Most of the work will be paid for by the county’s share of aviation taxes.

No other major renovations are planned until a $1 million taxiway rehabilitation in 2022, according an airport improvement plan.

Meanwhile, extending the runway from 4,335 to 5,000 feet to attract small corporate jets remains a dream, officials say.

“At this point, traffic at the airport doesn’t justify a need for that yet,” county aviation adviser Andrew Busbee said. “We are going to work for that, but we’ve got to take our time.”

It will take a commitment from 500 aircraft owners who need the extra length for that to happen, officials say.

Some county leaders wonder if better promotion of airstrip features would produce a quicker payoff. “We need to be figuring out ways to get more activity,” County Council chairman Todd Cullum of Cayce said.

Making the 190-acre airport a center for business fliers would give those travelers access to the west side of the Midlands faster than landing at Hamilton-Owens Airport near downtown Columbia, planners have said.

The airports are about 20 miles apart, with Columbia Metropolitan Airport in between and largely reserved for airlines carrying passengers and cargo.

County officials took over the airstrip from the town in 2004, focusing initially on trying to attract industry around it before changing course to make it a magnet for corporate travel.


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