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Airport eyes longer runways



Finding money will be difficult, officials say

By Kyle Stock

The Post and Courier

Friday, September 7, 2007

Charleston International Airport is accelerating a plan to extend both runways it uses, but officials said Thursday that bankrolling the project will be difficult.

The U.S. Air Force, which owns the runways, will cover about $80 million of the cost, while another $60 million to $100 million would have to be cobbled together from federal, state and county sources, said David Jennings, chairman of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.

While the extra length would allow the military to launch heavier cargo planes, economic development officials said a runway of 10,000 feet or more is almost essential to landing another major aircraft manufacturer, like the two suppliers that are building pieces of the Boeing Co.'s new 787 jet on airport property.

"There are lots of people who have a vested interest in solving this problem," Jennings said. "It's an economic-development problem, it's a global-war-on-terrorism problem, and it's a problem everyone is working on."

In recent months, the Lowcountry was scratched from the list of potential sites by a major aerospace company because it does not have a 10,000-foot runway, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

"While this doesn't happen every day, having the infrastructure in place will make us more competitive for the larger, often higher-paying projects," said David Ginn, chief executive of the alliance.

The two runways shared by Charleston International and Charleston Air.

Force Base measure 7,000 feet and 9,000 feet. Airport officials, working with the Charleston Metro Area Chamber of Commerce, have launched a plan to extend those 9,000 and 10,500 feet, respectively.

The state Commerce Department agreed Thursday to pay $75,000 for an environmental assessment of one of the extensions.

But raising the rest of the money is likely to be a tricky task.

The airport could qualify for money from the Federal Aviation Administration, though it would have to tap into a number of other funding "buckets," including county and municipal governments, Jennings said.

Airport officials recently made their case to state House Speaker Bobby Harrell. They plan to brief Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell on the proposal soon.

County officials are rushing to complete the planned extension by fall 2010, when the longer runway is scheduled to be closed for repaving.

Local air traffic could jam the remaining strip, and big cargo planes carrying supplies for the Air Force and Boeing might not have enough room to take off under certain weather conditions.

"It would make life on this side of the field exciting, though it won't shut us down," Jennings said. "But I don't know if the Air Force can operate on just the 7,000-foot runway."

To help drum up support and financing for the project in the Pentagon, the county and the chamber have enlisted Col. Glen Joerger, who retired in June as commander of the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base. The two groups each agreed to pay Joerger $9,000 for six months of consulting.


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