Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Upgrades continue at Asheboro Regional Airport (KHBI); new terminal still in plans

ASHEBORO — Much public business remains on hold until after the November election, and that includes city officials traveling to Washington in search of federal assistance for a new airport terminal.

“We’ll be going right after the swearing in of the new president and new Congress,” City Manager John Ogburn said last week.

Ogburn said local officials have discussed a project to replace the small terminal that’s more than 40 years old at the Asheboro Regional Airport with U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who represents District 6, which includes Randolph County. Ogburn also said the city will hire a firm with experience lobbying for municipal governments to help marshal a request for money through the political process in D.C.

“We feel good about our chances,” Ogburn said, “but we do need that professional skill in Washington through the appropriations phase. Asheboro is a regional airport. It lines up nicely with the megasite, which will be a southeast regional site. There will be a federal role in helping serve this airport.”

The city has $1.3 million set aside for a new terminal, including $500,000 earmarked by the state toward construction of a new terminal. The city also hopes to get money from the county for the project. Members of the airport authority have pledged to raise half a million dollars as part of a private campaign.

The estimated cost of a two-story, 22,739-square-foot terminal — a proposal presented last October, during a special joint meeting of the Asheboro City Council, the Randolph County Commissioners and the Asheboro Airport Authority — is $7.5 million. The facility built of glass, block and stone is designed to look like an airplane wing from the air.

Ogburn said the basic idea, down to “the roof shaped like a wing,” is good.

The cost, not so much.

“That’s a really high number,” he said. “I don’t anticipate it being that much.”

At their regular July meeting, Asheboro City Council members approved agreements with the N.C. DOT Division of Aging to use grant monies for a ramp/apron rehabilitation project: Up to $98,100 for design and bid work (or 90 percent of the estimated $109,000 cost) and up to $531,000 for construction (90 percent of the estimated $590,000 cost). The apron is where planes are parked, unloaded or loaded, refueled, or boarded at an airport.

Council members also approved the use of up to $44,698 in state funds (90 percent of the estimated $49,655) for preliminary design for the new terminal.

The plan unveiled in October included an animated PowerPoint presentation with detailed views of the proposed terminal, inside and out. But, Ogburn said, greater detail is required to move forward: “You couldn’t let a bid — or get an exact price — with just a floor plan or a concept.”

The airport on Pilots View Road, off N.C. 49 west of town, was established in its present location in the mid-1960s. It is one of 26 business class size airports in the state and sees more than 125 flights per week.

“We’ve got air traffic out there — the operation out there is strong,” Ogburn said. “The airport has served us well for so long. The last piece of the puzzle out there is the vertical space, which is the terminal building.”

The runway is more than a mile long, enough to accommodate most business jets. The facility also has a full-length taxiway. Work is under way to gain approval for precision approaches at the airport, reducing the minimum altitude of approaches from 800 feet to about 300 feet, so that pilots can fly into and out of the facility when visibility is low.

City staff is working on some indoor remodeling, including HVAC and bathroom upgrades, at the current terminal. If a new terminal is built, the old one would not be torn down. Plans call for using it as a base for flight instruction.

In 2001, North Carolina legislators tapped the N.C. Aviation Museum at the airport as the future home of a state aviation Hall of Fame. Today, letters on the exterior of a large hangar note that it houses the North Carolina Aviation Museum & Hall of Fame, but there is only a museum. A Hall of Fame has never been developed.

The terminal proposal envisions space dedicated to pivotal events and personalities important in North Carolina’s aviation history, sort of a “teaser” Hall of Fame. Nearby doors at the end of the building would lead visitors out-of-doors to a covered walkway to the museum.

Proponents say a new terminal — offering improved facilities for pilots, as well as meeting rooms and a cafe open to the public — would bolster the economic impact the airport already has on the aviation side of the ledger, while also growing its contribution to the county’s tourism economy.

The state completed an economic impact survey of North Carolina’s airports in 2012 and set the annual economic contribution of Asheboro’s airport at $5.9 million.

Currently, the tax value of airplanes hangared at the Asheboro airport is almost $5.2 million, which contributes to city and county coffers the tax equivalent of about 42 homes worth $121,000. With improved facilities, proponents say, the number of planes that call the Asheboro airport home could double in a decade.


Record Glider Plane Flight Lands In Hot Springs, South Dakota

Rathbun with his Rolladen-Schneider LS3-a model glider after landing back in Utah from Hot Springs.  

A School of Mines graduate recently broke a Utah state glider plane distance record.  Steve Rathbun  flew a glider, or sailplane from a location near Salt Lake City to Hot Springs South Dakota.   Sail planes have no engine. Rather, glider pilots use thermals or uplifting currents created by mountains, deserts and even towns to soar through the sky.

Steve Rathbun says it takes a lot to get a glider in the air. When taking off, a small engine airplane leads the glider into the sky, sort of like a tug boat pulling a steam ship out of a harbor. Rathbun says it’s once you’re in the air and flying, 18,000 feet above the ground, that the real skills comes in.

“You’re looking for all kinds of signs of lift and looking at the clouds and any other weather indicators to tell you what’s going on with the atmosphere and always trying to keep a plan A and a plan B, plan A if everything goes well and plan B if you don’t stay up,” says Rathbun.

Rathbun says that kind of multitasking takes years to form; flying glider planes isn’t something you learn overnight. For Rathbun, his training began early in life.

“And I was kind of a nerdy kid and I liked to build model airplanes and gliders and what not so it was always just part of my being and I would always bug my dad and say “Dad, I want flying lessons.” His response was always, well, yeah, flying’s expensive you better save your money son,” says Rathbun.

Rathbun started hang gliding when he was young and worked up to glider plane piloting. Since then, he’s spent 700 hours flying gliders. He says that each time he flies he tries climbing a little higher or going a little further in distance.

“Soaring kind of becomes a way of life, it’s something that you think about a lot and even during the winter months you’re always planning this kind of thing and dreaming of these opportunities so when it comes time to do it you’re prepared and you just do it and if you try and you fail and you don’t quite make it then you just try again next time,” says Rathbun.

Rathbun says he was inspired to be a pilot by his late father, Grove Rathbun, a skilled aviator and Air National Guard fighter pilot from South Dakota. Grove is set to be inducted into the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame this fall.

Read more about glider aviation and upcoming projects.

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