FAA grant will help lengthen runway; Leesburg airport will extend west end

LEESBURG -- Nearly eight years in the making, Leesburg International Airport's main-runway extension project is getting closer to takeoff. City commissioners Monday night agreed to accept an almost $2.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation...


LEESBURG -- Nearly eight years in the making, Leesburg International Airport's main-runway extension project is getting closer to takeoff.

City commissioners Monday night agreed to accept an almost $2.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that will help pay for 300 more feet of pavement on the runway's west end with taxiway and other add-ons..

Airport officials say the addition is the first of several in a multiphase project to eventually extend the 5,000-foot runway by 1,300 feet, which will allow for larger planes to take off and for others to carry more fuel than they can now.

"The problem is not so much with the landing. The problem is with the departure," Airport Manager Charlie Weller said, before commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the FAA grant. "By the time you put fuel, people, luggage, there's not enough runway for them to take off, especially if they want to go to Europe or if they want to go on a long-distance trip."

City officials say they're waiting for another grant of about $1 million from the FAA before construction starts. Leesburg and the state would split about $210,000 in costs in the project, expected to top $4 million.

Plans to extend the runway have been running behind schedule for the past several years because of prior consultant and planning problems, city officials say.

After paying one firm $150,000 from city and state funds about two years ago, the city had to later hire another to assess the runway's environmental impact. Such a study is required by the federal government prior to design and construction.

When the first company didn't "perform well," Interim City Manager Jay Evans said, "we had to go out and have a second environmental assessment done, which caused us to delay by a year the design and construction of the runway."

Airport officials say the study is now complete, along with the runway's design. But they must wait for all the funds to arrive before breaking ground.

A longer runway could make it more convenient for corporate jets that tend to fly farther distances -- and eventually could accommodate commercial commuter planes with a full load of passengers.

"We would like to be able to run commuter aircraft out of Leesburg International to provide passenger-jet service to area residents," Evans said. With the existing runway, planes bound for cross-country or overseas flights often have to refuel elsewhere before reaching their destination, he said.

Weller said officials hope to receive federal and state grants to help pay for the remaining 1,000 feet of runway extension, as well as moving and extending the taxiway. Also on the horizon is construction of a terminal in about three years, which is considered the final hurdle in bringing commercial air traffic to Leesburg International.

CONTACT: Christine Dellert can be reached at cdellert@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5917.

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