Reopening gives exec a ‘reason to celebrate’

Oct. 22, 2013 @ 08:31 PM

As the Raleigh Executive Jetport at Sanford-Lee County readies to resume operations after two months of construction, excitement is building and will culminate with a ceremony Thursday morning.

The airport has been closed since early September as crews worked to strengthen its 6,500-by-100-foot runway and add better lighting. Pending a final inspection, the airport will reopen to fliers sometime Thursday. Fliers who want to stay abreast of the news can check the airport’s website or Facebook page, where officials have promised to post updates.

The $4 million project at the airport in northern Lee County increased the weight capacity of the runway from 80,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds, which will allow larger aircraft to touch down there instead of a neighboring facility. It also replaced the bulbs along the runway with LED lights, which are brighter and more cost efficient. The taxiway is also getting new LED lights, although that project isn’t done yet, said Gabby Murillo, an assistant at the airport.

“It is brighter,” she said of the new lighting system. “It’s similar to what RDU has — and all the big airports. It looks nicer too, and it’s easier to see at night.”

Greg Hudson, the airport’s manager, said in a press release he thinks the updates — which also include a grooved water drainage system that will allow large planes to land — should help Lee County as a whole.

“We’ve always handled large corporate aircraft,” Hudson said. “But the increased weight capacity and grooves will expand the range of planes that can use the jetport — and that should mean a lot more business coming to our area.”

The airport sees a mix of private and corporate flights due to the large manufacturing base locally and the site’s proximity to Raleigh and the Research Triangle, Pinehurst and other points of interest. The airport also recently became home to the N.C. Forestry Service and will be working on a new hangar and helicopter pad for that agency, Murillo said. In addition to that project, the airport — which has a long waiting list for on-site spots — also plans to add 28 hangars by this spring.

Airport Authority Chairman Carter Keller said the growth coincides with the booming Triangle region, which is located about a 30-minute drive north of the airport.

“The Raleigh metropolitan area is now one of the four fastest growing in the country, and Forbes magazine recently listed it as the third best place for business and careers, so there are plenty of people and companies pouring into the Research Triangle Region,” Keller said in a press release. “Raleigh Exec already offered quick and much-easier access to the region for anyone involved in aviation. The new runway and all of our ongoing improvements will make us even stronger.”

The Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce has touted the jetport as a key cog in the local economy before, and to celebrate the end of construction, it’s teaming with the airport to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Thursday. According to a recent statewide study, the airport contributed $32.2 million to the local economy in the 2010-11 fiscal year, since which time it has continued to grow.

Another group giddy about the airport’s re-opening is the Wings of Carolina Flying Club, a regional club with about 350 members.

“It has been a long two months with the TTA runway being closed, but it is looking great,” club member Paul Wilder said in an email to his group and local dignitaries. “Wings of Carolina pilots, instructors, student pilots and members in general have risen above the huge challenges of having to fly and train at other airports. With our return to Sanford, it is time to celebrate.”

The group is holding a party at their next local meeting to commemorate the occasion; locals, pilots and their families are invited to attend.