Project puts flights on hold

Aug. 9, 2007

Aug. 8--Pilots who use Columbia Downtown Owens Airport either have given up flying this month or have moved their airplanes to other locations as the airfield's runway gets a new surface.

James Clark, who is president of the Palmetto Sport Aviation club, moved his plane -- a custom-built RV6-- to Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

"Clearly, I could go a month without using it," Clark said. "But I'd rather not."

It's been 25 years since the runway was resurfaced, said Jim Hamilton, airport manager. Cracks were scattered throughout the 5,400-foot-long runway, he said. As a result, pebbles and other debris from the cracks could damage airplane engines.

"It's not like a highway where you come out and fill a pothole and people keep driving on it," Hamilton said.

Work on the runway began July 31 and should be finished by Aug. 21, Hamilton said. Besides paving the runway, workers are removing old terra cotta pipes from underneath it and refilling the holes with gravel and dirt.

Half of the airport's apron, or airplane parking lot, is also getting a new surface, he said.

A $1.9 million federal grant is paying for 95 percent of the work. The Richland County Council and the S.C. Department of Commerce are chipping in the rest of the money, Hamilton said.

The Owens airport is used by businesses that need quick access to downtown, the University of South Carolina and people doing business on Fort Jackson, Hamilton said. Seventy percent of the airport's traffic is for business use, he said.

While planes are not buzzing around the airport, the terminal remains open because the building is used for public meeting space and a small staff is on hand to answer phones.

The project should be completed in time for the football season that starts Sept. 1, Hamilton said. The airport is most busy when the Gamecocks are home, especially facing conference rivals such as Georgia and Tennessee.

The paving company faces a daily fine if the work isn't finished on schedule.

"We want to finish the project before we have the first home game for Carolina," he said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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