City leaders and officials with Lowe's Cos. Inc. hope a congressman's visit last weekend will help loosen millions in federal funding for ongoing improvements to Statesville Regional Airport.
On a tour of the airport Saturday, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he sees hundreds of funding requests from across the country as chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, "and you are so far ahead." Mica also has a home in Blowing Rock.
Among other work, the city has completed a 2,000-foot runway extension from 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet, a new lighting system, and a localizer, which allows planes to descend 100 feet closer to the ground on an instrument landing than with the airport's previous equipment. The localizer, however, is only a part of the instrument landing system the airport needs federal money to complete, city officials said. The airport also needs money to strengthen the runway pavement, complete a south taxiway, relocate Bethlehem Road and do other roadwork, officials said. A north taxiway is nearly finished.
The city has requested $3.7 million in federal funding for those improvements. Officials are concerned by months of delays in the FAA approving procedures for "instrument-approach" landings and takeoffs at the airport. Instrument-approach involves special equipment that guides planes through weather when there is no visibility.
Also concerned by FAA inaction are officials with Mooresville-based Lowe's, which bases five corporate jets in its nearly $10 million airplane hangar. Lowe's jets travel worldwide from Statesville's airport, one of only two general-aviation airports in the state with a 7,000-foot runway. The other is in Kinston's Global TransPark, Statesville Mayor John Marshall said.
Lowe's and the city had counted on the all-weather instrument landing system being in place months ago. "We are concerned with the pace of the FAA in getting instrument-approach clearances," Ames Flynn, Lowe's vice president of administration, told Mica. Some Lowe's planes have diverted to other airports in bad weather because of the Statesville airport's lack of instrument landing, he said.
Local officials want to secure the funding in time for the improvements to be made before winter. U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who represents parts of Iredell County, brought Mica to Statesville on Saturday. She wanted him to see all the activity and improvements at the airport so he could understand the importance of the FAA approval to the local economy.
"The whole idea is to get him here to see what is happening, to hear the commitment to this airport on everyone's part... and to be an advocate with me for this airport," Foxx said.
Mica, who complimented the airport's nearness to Interstates 40 and 77, said he would deliver Statesville's plans this week to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and FAA Associate Administrator of Airports Woodie Woodward.
Extending the taxiway will cost about $8 million.
Chicago aviation officials like to point to the 31-year-old airport in Dallas as a proven model for the parallel runways envisioned at the future O'Hare International Airport.
Authorities are making sure light poles, traffic signals and trees bordering the airfield do not block the new equipment's communication with planes.
At least eight times since December 1999, experienced pilots from five different airlines have mistaken Taxiway Tango for Runway 16R.