Expanding the runway at the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport will mean Piedmont aircraft won’t have to reduce the number of passengers or amount of luggage carried, as sometimes occurs now, and could eventually lead to aircraft leaving from Salisbury traveling farther than Philadelphia and Charlotte, the current destinations.
The runway will be lengthened to 7,600 feet, after 1,200 feet are added in a $10 million project funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, Tony Rudy, Airport Manager, told the Salisbury Independent this week.
Originally, the hope was to receive $15 million from the FAA and expand to 7,800 feet but Rudy said the FAA didn’t agree with the request, prompting objections from local leaders, including Bill Chambers, President and CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, who said an 8,000-foot runway would allow cross-country air travel from Salisbury and more air freight service.
State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza and Dels. Sheree Sample-Hughes and Wayne Hartman attended, by phone conference, the County’s Airport Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 11, and Carozza asked several questions and promised that elected officials were “trying to work through issues at the federal level.”
Rudy said he had not received an update from federal officials so, “we are still moving forward with $10 million in discretionary funds.”
“If we get another $5 million we will have to address that,” he said, adding for approval of more than $10 million, the FAA “wants to see if there is more of a benefit out of that project.”
“We had hoped for $15 million but we will only get $10 million,” he said.
Carozza asked if federal CARES Act funding can be used for runway expansion but Rudy said it is earmarked specifically for operational uses at the airport. The money will go toward projects including roof replacement between two Piedmont hangars, a roof on an old terminal building that needs to be replaced and work on the traffic control tower.
Rudy thanked Carozza and all elected officials and said in his nearly 30 years in the airport management business he had never seen such a dedicated level of support. “I am very grateful for it,” he said. Matt Creamer, Vice Chairman of the Airport Commission, and other members, also thanked elected officials.
Also working for more funding were U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, who wrote to FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, calling the need urgent.
The FAA’s “analysis and the conclusions drawn were too narrow in their perspective and failed to capture the important opportunities that depend on this runway extension,” the senators wrote, asking for reconsideration, but the airport did not receive the $15 million requested.
After the meeting, Rudy explained the airport usually receives $1 million each year in entitlement money from the FAA, for projects and equipment eligible to be paid with those funds. “If we have a large project and not enough entitlement money then we ask for discretionary money,” he said.
Some state funding is also expected from the Maryland Aviation Administration for airport expansion and the county will go to the bond market for any additional money needed to pay for the project, Rudy said.
“We are starting design work on it now. We have wetland permitting that has to take place by the end of next year. Construction should start the end of 2023. The original plan to get the runway paved should be completed by the end of 2023, then the taxiway that goes alongside it. Navigational aids will be relocated in the third phase. If funding is in place at the time of construction, we can do all the phases at once, which would save money, rather than bringing people in to work at three different times,” he said.
Expanding the runway will give the airport more options, he said.
Currently, a certain number of passengers and luggage have had to be removed from Piedmont planes because of the length of the existing runway, he said.
“You have to look at the performance of that aircraft. It has to carry enough fuel so it can’t carry as many passengers now. We really have a need for an expanded runway. We are going forward in the future with larger aircraft. Or, aircraft might want to fly farther distances and they have to carry more fuel. If they go cross-country they have to carry a larger fuel load to get there. Need depends on each aircraft. Each one is very unique,” he said.