Pilots seemed anxious to return to the Raleigh Executive Jetport at Sanford/Lee County Thursday, with two aircraft landing during the 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Lee County’s airport reopened its runway after closing for 50 days for the construction and repaving of its runway, which raised the surface’s weight capacity from 80,000 to 100,000 pounds. Local politicians, Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce members and Sanford-Lee County Airport Authority leaders gathered on the tarmac to celebrate the end of the construction, which began shortly before Labor Day.
Sanford City Councilman L.I. “Poly” Cohen, who serves on the Airport Authority Board, said he was extremely pleased this project was completed, which will allow heavier planes to land in Lee County.
“I am so proud of what Sanford has become and where it is going,” he said. “What a great asset we have.”
Lee County Commissioner Charlie Parks thanked the Airport Authority members for the diligence in overseeing the multi-million dollar project. The construction was funded by a federal grant through the N.C. Division of Aviation.
“Planes have a place in our community, and they help our community,” Parks said.
Airport Authority Chairman Carter Keller said he wasn’t happy about closing the runway for 50 days and canceling the annual Family Day @ the Jetport, but said the runway was worth the wait.
“It’s a great asset, and, for many, it’s our community’s front door,” Keller said. “We hope it will last for a long time. Thank you to our city council members, our county commissioners and all the citizens who live here. And the users [of this jetport].”
Jerry Pedley, former Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce president and current pilot, said he was proud to see the airport thrive and grow, adding that the jetport brings in businessmen and money into the area every day.
“It’s a great business tool,” he said.
Airport Manager Greg Hudson said he expects 80-90 aircrafts to return to the jetport in the coming weeks. The reunion of the aircraft and fliers, he said, was akin to a big family gathering.
Improvements at the jetport will continue with the installation of LED lights, and grooves will be added to the runway to help move water off the surface in the coming months. Raleigh Exec will also be home to 28 additional T-hangers, for which there is already a waiting list, according to Hudson.