Sussex County airport earns $3.7 million grantExtending runway to 6,000 feet to bring 60 new jobs
A $3.7 million grant from the Delaware New Jobs Infrastructure Fund is a new step forward toward a long-planned runway extension project at the Sussex County airport. PATS Aircraft Systems and Sussex County applied for the grant from a program set up by state legislators last year to spur economic development and job creation.
For nearly a decade, county officials have been working to extend the airport's main runway from 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet to allow larger aircraft, including Boeing 737s and Boeing 757s to land and take off. County officials have already locked up funding for a 500-foot extension, for which 95 percent of the dollars will come from the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA would not fund the second 500 feet for the full 1,000-foot expansion project because of restricted federal funding and tight budgets.
The $25 million project cost for the additional 500-foot extension includes more than $6 million for the realignment of Park Avenue, the road adjacent to the airport.
Boeing 737 models already fly in and out of the general aviation field for interior conversion work at PATS Aircraft. PATS has plans to service the larger Boeing 757s in the future, but the runway is not long enough for the larger aircraft.
In addition, by extending the 5,000-foot-long runway another 1,000 feet, larger aircraft could take off with a full tank of fuel, without having to make costly and time-consuming stops at other regional airports before traveling to their destinations, said county spokesman Chip Guy.
PATS Aircraft, which has been located at the airport since the 1990s, employs approximately 350 people at its hangars in Georgetown. PATS does interior work and installs auxiliary fuel tanks on jets from companies and individuals around the world.
The runway extension would solidify the company’s presence and allow it to grow its operation, as well as make the airport more marketable to future tenants, county officials said.
The county still has work to do; the grant is contingent on federal and state transportation funds for road realignment. Before he retired, former County Administrator David Baker laid out a funding plan for the $25 million project, which included half of the funds coming from federal sources and half from state and county sources.
Construction of the first 500-foot runway extension is slated to begin this summer and should be completed by late 2013. County leaders hope ground will be broken on the second phase of the project, the additional 500 feet, by sometime in 2014.
“This is fantastic news for the airport, for employers like PATS Aircraft and for the economy in Sussex County,” said County Council President Michael H. Vincent. “This investment is a critical piece to the partnership puzzle of federal, state, local and private industry leaders who have spent years working together on this very important project to improve the airport and add jobs to our county.”
PATs anticipates the full expansion project would boost its business and allow the company to add another 60 jobs in next few years. County officials said the project would also benefit 16 other businesses and 500 employees in the industrial park at the airport.
“We are encouraged that the state recognizes the importance of the runway extension and the jobs it will create, not only at PATS, but also within the county,” said PATS Aircraft Chief Executive Officer John Martin. “We view this as a win-win for the private sector, for the county and for the state.”
“This is exciting news for Sussex County, and we’re very thankful for our partners at the state who have recognized the value of investing in Sussex County’s future,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson. “This project is more than just expanding the runway and rerouting a road. It will grow businesses, open up job opportunities and transform our transportation system – in the air and on the ground – in the greater Georgetown area for years to come.”
Sussex County officials have worked with members of Delaware’s congressional delegation, as well as Delaware Department of Transportation officials, to come up with a funding solution to make the plan a reality. Not only would the project involve extending the runway itself, but it would require Park Avenue to be moved southeast, reconnecting it with a new intersection at Arrow Safety Road.
So far, the county has spent more than $3 million on engineering and design work and to acquire property near the airport for the longer runway. In all, the county will spend about $7 million of the project’s total cost, Guy said.
The New Jobs Infrastructure Fund was established by the Delaware General Assembly in 2011 to boost economic development and provide seed money for job growth. The General Assembly set aside $40 million in funding for businesses and governments to pay for improvements to infrastructure, such as roads, utilities and airports, which would, in turn, help attract new jobs and keep businesses in Delaware.
"I am thrilled that the Delaware state government has awarded these additional funds to the Sussex County airport project,” said Sen. Tom Carper. “This state funding, combined with the federal resources for this project, will help create much-needed job opportunities in Sussex County by allowing existing businesses to grow and attracting new businesses. Through projects like this, we can help foster economic growth and airport accessibility for Sussex County and all of Delaware."