Longer Runway Debated for Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Town Councilman Joe Bustos eased a Cessna 172 toward the 3,700-foot-long runway for landing at the Mount Pleasant Regional Airport.

"See how small it looks?" he said. "You should try it at night. I can tell you that another 1,300 feet would be nice to have."

Bustos said the runway should be 5,000 feet long to provide an added margin of error and improved safety. At his urging, the Town Council Economic Development Committee on which he serves has asked the council to query the Charleston County Aviation Authority about funds for airport improvements.

"The airport has been considered an economic development asset, one which we haven't done much about," Bustos said. But he said he's not interested in expanding the airport. "This is not a play to get more aircraft in here," he said.

The ramp at the airport terminal where planes park would not support the added weight of bigger planes, he said.

"The airport is safe for what comes in here, but that (longer runway) just gives you a little bit of a multiplier effect, and that's what you want. That's just one more thing that you have that enhances safety," he said.

Seventy-two aircraft are based at the airport, including 65 single-engine planes, six multi-engine planes and one helicopter. The airport averages 79 flights daily, with some 66 percent of them transient general aviation, 31 percent military and 3 percent general aviation, according to AirNav.com.

Mayor Harry Hallman is a member of the Aviation Authority. He said the town airport is a "reliever airport" to reduce congestion at Charleston International Airport.

Wando High School, the site of the new Roper Hospital and hundreds of homes in Park West surround the airport, he noted. "I'm vehemently opposed to extending the runways," he said. "I think that would be a terrible mistake. To encourage jets to come in there I think would be terribly wrong."

Councilman Paul Gawrych, who is Economic Development Committee chairman, said he is concerned that a longer runway would mean bigger, noisier planes. "That's going to create just chaos. Bigger planes, bigger jets, noisier planes, noisier jets," he said.

Susan Stevens, deputy director of airports for the Charleston County Aviation Authority, said the agency's master plan calls for Mount Pleasant airport improvements "if conditions warrant."

Since 2004, the airport has received about $4 million for improvements, such as additional parking and hangar space, Stevens said. The authority is updating its master plan, which will determine whether more improvements at the airport are warranted, she said.

In April, Bradford Lewis, 51, of Isle of Palms died in the crash of his single-engine Lancair 360 just south of the runway. He was practicing takeoffs and landings, officials said. The National Transportation Safety Board has not completed its investigation of the accident.

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