Regional Airport's runway officially opens: Facility can handle all but largest aircraft

Nov. 29--Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport's new 8,000-foot runway will be long enough to handle all aircraft except the Airbus, 747 and C5A -- the largest planes flying in the United States today, board Chairman Robert J. Gilles said Wednesday.

Although a red ribbon was cut Wednesday to officially open the runway, the new 1,500-foot extension won't be open to aircraft for a few more weeks.

The runway will be a cornerstone for economic development, several speakers told the crowd that gathered for the ceremony.

Mayor Tom Watson said the city is working to persuade the state to move the Kentucky National Guard Armory from West Parrish Avenue to the airport. And he's hoping to get a military emergency distribution center attached to the new armory.

The distribution center would allow military planes to fly in to pick up supplies for national emergencies, Watson said.

Paul Steely, Kentucky's aviation commissioner, said the new runway almost attracted a Canadian aviation company this year.

The company was considering a location in the United States, and Owensboro was the only city that met its criteria, he said.

But Steely said Ontario made the company a offer to stay in Canada that it couldn't pass up.

He told the crowd that 6.5 percent -- 120,000 -- of Kentucky's jobs are aviation-related.

"More and more companies will not move into a community that does not have an airport," Steely said.

He called Owensboro's airport "one of the finest airports in the state" and said there are only a couple of other airports that "could handle a runway like this."

Tim Bradshaw, the airport's manager, said only Louisville and Northern Kentucky airports have longer runways -- 10,000 feet each.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate's minority leader, told the crowd that Kentucky needs to grow and growth is tied to economic development.

With the new runway, the Ohio River and a four-lane connector to I-64 in southern Indiana under construction, McConnell said, Owensboro is "the complete package."

"There's an expectation that the community will take advantage of this opportunity," Daviess Judge-Executive Reid Haire told the crowd.

McConnell thanked former U.S. Sen. Wendell H. Ford of Owensboro for his work in the 1990s in getting the first federal funding for the runway project.

Gilles said the airport board has been working on the project since 1993. The first federal grants came in 1995, he said.

Phillip Braden, a Federal Aviation Administration official from Memphis, told the crowd that agency has pumped more than $10 million into the project since 1999.

Work toward the runway extension began in 1988, when Owensboro made the short list for a $75 million Federal Express maintenance operations facility that would have employed 800 people.

The airport's goal is still to become a cargo hub, which could lead to more distribution and warehousing jobs in the community, board members have said in the past.

The city was without commercial air service from March 8 to Nov. 18.

Delta Connection now offers one daily flight to and from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

The service is scheduled to expand to two flights in December and possibly three in January.

Wednesday's ceremony began with a moment of silence for Jerry John McKenney of Sturgis, who was killed Monday evening when his twin-engine Cessna crashed into a field near Kentucky 554 on a flight from Evansville to Owensboro.

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