Currituck, N.C. Hopes Airport Upgrades Land More Revenue

Dec. 21--CURRITUCK -- Currituck Regional Airport upgrades expected within the next year could speed up industry recruitment.

Plans are to build hangars for private and commercial aircraft, construct a security fence, plat industrial lots, install electronics for instrument landing, hire an airport manager and contract with a company for aircraft maintenance and refueling.

The Currituck County Board of Commissioners approved the plans Monday, Chairman Paul O'Neal said Tuesday.

Longer range plans include more hangars, a recreation center and an agriculture building on the property.

Currituck officials hope that with continued improvements, the airport complex of about 530 acres will become an attraction to high-paying industries that serve aviation and need services for corporate aircraft.

This is another in a series of plans formed through the years.

Maps of industrial lots have been available for years. Industry executives have been shown the property, and some have expressed interest. N one of the lots was ever platted, and they could take a year or more to be ready.

"We're showing the property, but we're not ready if they're interested," O'Neal said at Monday's meeting.

In the latest plan, the industrial lots would be placed along a new boulevard that would intersect with U.S. 158 just west of Central Elementary School. Airport Road, which serves as the entry to the property now, would become another taxiway.

Airport improvements not only would help attract more industry but would increase revenue. Currituck earns more than $3,400 annually in rent from about 30 aircraft parked in two existing hangars and at outside tie-downs. The average value of the aircraft is about $50,000 and brings in $1.4 million annually in property tax revenue. Jet fuel sales bring in about $12,000 a month.

Currituck is close to signing a contract with Outer Banks Aviation to handle maintenance and fueling at the airport, a major step toward drawing more aircraft to the facility. Outer Banks Aviation would be created as a subsidiary of Southern Aviation Technologies of Florida for the Currituck airport.

Parts of a master plan created five years ago have been finished. A 2,500-square-foot terminal has been dedicated. The runway has been extended to 5,500 feet from 4,000 feet to better accommodate corporate jets. A jet-fuel tank and a weather observation station have been installed.

The airport handles about 19,000 operations a year, up 400 percent from the early 1990s. A study by an engineering company predicted business-jet traffic could increase significantly in the next 20 years because of the recently extended runway.

The county may hire an airport manager next year, O'Neal said. County Manager Dan Scanlon manages the airport but cannot be there for daily operations, Commissioner Eldon Miller said.

"It's time for the airport to have its own director," Miller said at Monday's meeting.

Currituck Regional Airport is among about 40 public airports considered "business class" by the state. State grants paid for a large portion of the airport improvements. The state provides money and engineering services to 76 public airports statewide. Business-class airports provide services desired by corporations, such as a runway of at least 5,000 feet, 24-hour fueling and a terminal building.

Currituck has agreed to build a 10,000-square-foot commercial hangar and lease it to Outer Banks Aviation, said Larry O'Rourke, executive vice president of Southern Aviation Technologies. The company will provide maintenance, refueling, fixed-wing air ambulance services, charters, flight lessons and aircraft storage. Southern Aviation Technologies has operated at the Elizabeth City airport since last year, when it bought out Flight Line Aviation.

The county also could build a hangar for private aircraft. About 20 pilots are waiting for space, Scanlon said in a presentation to the board Monday.

Currituck battled the state for about a year over ownership of the airport until court proceedings and action by the General Assembly declared in April the county should own the airport and the property around it.

Blackwater USA announced plans in July 2004 to move aviation operations to Currituck and bring 25 jobs, but it backed off the deal while Currituck battled the state for ownership. Blackwater officials would not comment Tuesday on the Currituck plans, spokeswoman Anne Duke said .

Reach Jeffrey Hampton at (252) 338-0159 or jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com.

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