Monday, October 24, 2016

Elizabeth City Regional Airport manager starts November 1st

The Elizabeth City Regional Airport will have a new director who's a former Marine, with additional experience as a defense contract worker and, most recently, as operations manager at Pitt-Greenville Airport.

Gordon Rowell, 49, said he'll report for work in Pasquotank County on Nov. 1. His last day at Pitt-Greenville Airport was on Friday.

Reached by phone on Friday, Rowell said he wants to grow relationships with the Elizabeth City Regional Airport's neighbor, the Coast Guard base, and with nearby Elizabeth City State University.

Additionally, Rowell said he wants to appeal to and secure business from corporations who have jet aircraft.

Rowell said while he loves single-engine airplanes and wants to see as many of them coming in as possible, he wants to get some corporate jet owners to base their aircraft here because those aircraft use more fuel than the weekend aviators.

“I think it would make the place more financially stable if we had some based jets,” he said.

The Elizabeth City Regional Airport, which dates back to 1972, is a general aviation facility that serves many private aviators and also provides refueling for military aircraft. The airport also contributes to the estimated $384 million impact that aviation makes to the local economy.

Rowell on Friday acknowledged the significance of an airport in helping recruit future businesses and industries to a city and a county.

“By and large, most of your airports, whether they get a lot of attention for it or not, are economic development tools,” he said. “They add a certain platform for a lot of companies.”

Rowell said he also knows that there are some companies in the business world looking to expand and that they will look to have an aviation center somewhere.

“It adds to their capabilities whenever you can get on an airplane and go someplace to do business somewhere else,” he said.

Rowell said he applied for the position at Elizabeth City Regional Airport because he likes the Elizabeth City area and because, as a former military man, he likes the Coast Guard being just across the flight line.

Additionally, Rowell cited what he said is the natural progression for being an airport operations person to managing an airport.

“So this was a step up for me and I figured it was time for me to actually do that,” he said.

Airport Authority Chairman Don Parks said on Friday that Rowell is going to be paid approximately $73,000 a year. Parks said that he believes it's good that he and fellow authority members “got a local guy,” with local being in the sense of not from far off from Elizabeth City.

“I think he's going to do a good job,” he said.

Parks also said that he and his fellow members liked Rowell being a former Marine long involved in aviation and are “absolutely” looking forward to working with him.

“We can't wait for him to get on the ground here and take off and hopefully do some great things,” he said.

Rowell, who's originally from Chicago, said he served in the Marines from 1987-2004, both stateside and all over the world. His job was to service aircraft. He also served for a time as a Marine recruiter.

Rowell particularly recalled the impact of seeing the 1986 movie “Heartbreak Ridge,” which starred Clint Eastwood as a fictional salty Marine gunnery sergeant determined to cut through bureaucratic red tape in getting a slack recon platoon into shape.

Rowell said the character played by Eastwood was an inspiration when he was younger, but he said he learned in the Marines that it's not necessarily always great to go in with guns blazing. He said he learned that it also sometimes takes a bit more finesse to get things done.

And he added that, “You have to operate as a team to get things accomplished.”

He said he went on to work approximately six years in the defense contracting business, also servicing aircraft, before joining Pitt-Greenville Airport.

Pitt-Greenville Airport, which dates back to 1940, today is one of American Airlines' spokes that link with a hub in Charlotte.

Asked to describe what he did at Pitt-Greenville Airport as the operations official there, he summed up his now-former job this way: “If it stands still, I have to make sure I paint it. If it moves, I have to make sure it's oiled and serviced.” He said he supervised 27 people.

Rowell spoke Friday about knowing Elizabeth City State University has an aviation education program. ECSU's aviation program is the only one offered in North Carolina.

Rowell said that in fact while at Pitt-Greenville Airport, he oversaw an intern from ECSU who was learning how to fly aircraft. He also said he taught the intern much about Pitt-Greenville Airport's operations.

Additionally, he said he'll put College of The Albemarle officials on his checklist to go see. COA has a regional aviation and technical training center in Currituck County.

As for the Coast Guard officials locally, he said, “I'm very eager to meet them and find out what their long-term plans are for what they want to do with that place.”

Rowell will be filling a vacancy resulting from the resignation of Dion Viventi approximately three months ago.

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Director Wayne Harris doubled as the airport's interim director. Viventi is presently managing director of the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport Authority.

Rowell is going to become the third Elizabeth City Regional Airport manager hired in an approximately decade-long period.

Viventi, a former N.C. Department of Transportation official, had been airport manager since January 2014. He had succeeded Scott Hinton, a former Coast Guard search and rescue pilot who's presently general manager of Freedom Aviation in Lynchburg, Virginia.


Pitt-Greenville Airport deals with life near a river

Pitt-Greenville Airport’s new executive director said Hurricane Matthew changed the question about flooding from the Tar River from “will” to “when.” 

“We know the Tar River will flood,” said Betty Stansbury, who has been on the job since June 1 after relocating from Indiana. “We can’t move the river, and we can’t move the airport ... so we have to minimize the risk associated with being next to a river that floods.”

The Pitt-Greenville Airport is back to normal operations after Hurricane Matthew and the resulting floods hit eastern North Carolina. The airport shut down operations on Oct. 9 and reopened its shorter runway to smaller planes on Wednesday. The facility resumed commercial airline flights on Friday, Stansbury said.

The south end of the airport’s main runway was covered by floodwaters for several days, and water flooded the parking lot and damaged some vehicles that had been left at the facility.

“When we closed that Sunday, there were about 75 cars parked at the airport,” Stansbury said. “We contacted as many people as we could and opened the gates so people wouldn’t have to pay to get out. We were down to about 33 cars when the river reached its highest level. A few of them did get some water damage, but most were parked where it was a little more elevated.”

Water entered most of the facility’s 24 hangars but did not get inside the airport’s terminal, Stansbury said.

“The damage was not as bad as it could have been,” she said. “Our estimates for damage to the hangars is about $350,000 right now.”

An engineer from the airport’s consulting group assessed the structural integrity of the runways before the airport reopened.

“The engineers inspected the runway, and there was no visual damage,” Stansbury said. “And they performed a load-bearing test to ensure that planes could land on it. In a few weeks, we will do additional testing to make sure there is no damage to the foundation.”

Crews also spent several days cleaning debris from the runways before any planes could land.

“That absolutely had to be done because any debris is hazardous to aircraft,” Stansbury said. “It cost $33,000 to have that done.”

Now that operations have been restored, Stansbury said airport officials can discuss what can be done to prepare for a major flood event in the future.

“Our first priority has been getting the airport up and running,” Stansbury said. “Now we’re going to have some discussions here with the Federal Aviation Administration to see what we can do to limit the amount of damage the next time the Tar River floods.”

Stansbury said one of the airport’s top priorities should be elevating the south end of the facility’s main runway to keep it above potential floodwaters. Stansbury said the runway could be elevated if funding can be secured for the project.

“The north end of the runway is at an elevation of 26 feet,” she said. “The south end is at 20 feet. The north end of the runway did not flood. We need to look at leveling the runway off, which is just a matter of obtaining the funds needed.”

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the District 1 representative from Wilson, said he will be seeking federal grant money for a potential runway elevation project.

“We have to keep that runway out of the water,” Butterfield, who recently helped the airport secure a $2.5 million grant to fund improvements and upgrades, said. “I am working on getting money from the FAA to do that.”

Stansbury said airport officials also may consider moving more of its operation into the second floor of the facility’s terminal. In 2011, the Pitt-Greenville Airport completed a $7.9 million expansion and renovation that added a second floor to the terminal where the passenger screening and holding areas are located.

“That renovation was done with Hurricane Floyd (in 1999) in mind,” Stansbury said. “After Hurricane Matthew, we had to move everything on the first floor up to the second floor in case the water entered the terminal. If the airport decides to do another expansion, we could consider moving operations to a second story to keep everything out of potential floodwaters.”

Keeping the airport’s hangars and parking lot away from flooding could prove more challenging, Stansbury said.

“You can’t elevate the hangars because you wouldn’t be able to get the planes into them,” she said. “I’m not sure what can be done for the hangars and the parking lot. I will have to discuss that with our engineers to determine what can realistically and reasonably be done.”

‘A valuable asset’

Some people have raised concerns about investing federal tax dollars into an airport damaged by two major flooding events in 17 years. Others have suggested consolidating air services with the airport in Kinston and developing that facility into a larger, regional airport. 

“A lot of people will say move the airport to Kinston,” Stansbury said. “But we don’t want to go to Kinston and have everyone in Greenville have to go there for their air transportation needs.”

Stansbury said many areas west of Pitt County also rely on Pitt-Greenville Airport for air transportation services.

“We are the closest airport for these communities,” she said. “They need us here as well.”

Stansbury said the Pitt-Greenville Airport also plays an important role in Pitt County’s economy.

“The airport makes a significant economic contribution to this community,” she said. 

During the June 6 meeting of the Greenville City Council, Pitt-Greenville Airport Authority Chairman John Banks presented the results of a study conducted by the state on the economic impact of airports on local economies. According to the study, airports contribute to an economy through:

* Direct impacts, which come from businesses that are directly engaged in the movement of people or goods through an airport, such as airline employees and rental car companies;

* Indirect impacts, which come from spending by airport-related businesses on products and services provided by support businesses, such as office supply companies or property maintenance;

* Induced impacts, which comes from payroll expenditures by employees of directly and indirectly related businesses that produce successive spending locally. 

Banks said the Pitt-Greenville Airport has an estimated economic impact of about $100 million a year in Pitt County, according to the state’s study. That estimate has almost doubled since 2011, when the state’s data put the airport’s economic contribution at about $51 million each year.

“That is a big economic draw for this region,” Banks told council members during the June meeting. 

Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, also a board member of the Pitt-Greenville Airport Authority, said the airport is an important factor in the area’s economic growth.

“Transportation is an important part of our infrastructure,” Thomas said. “A lot of businesses here depend on having access to air transportation services, and having an airport is one of the top things businesses and industries look at when looking at an area to locate.

“This airport is an asset ... and we think it’s an important one,” Thomas said. “And we are going to continue to aggressively develop this asset in the coming years.”

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